What happens to Oklahoma if the recent boom in oil and gas production propelled by hydraulic fracturing goes bust?
If it’s anything close to the 1980s glut that led to steep price drops for oil, a devastated state economy and an ensuing exodus of people from Oklahoma, then it could be an extremely bad problem. For those of us who lived through the 1980s in Oklahoma as working adults, the sheer thought of another major bust should generate a lot of anxiety if not downright panic.
All this doesn’t even take into account the damage to the environment that would get left behind because of the hydraulic fracturing or fracking extraction process, which environmentalists claim contaminates water supplies and leads to earthquakes caused by wastewater disposal. Who’s going to pay for the clean up? Bankrupt or financially struggling oil and gas companies?
I’m posting about this topic because billionaire oilman and Oklahoma State University alum T. Boone Pickens recently gave a speech here in Oklahoma City in which he said oil production in the United States has doubled in the last 10 years and is creating a glut in the world market, lowering barrel prices. NewsOK.com quoted Pickens as saying, “Now we’re producing too much oil.”
The prices are much higher per barrel than they were in the 1980s and supposedly the state economy is more diversified now, but let there be no mistake that any major slowdown in the oil and gas patch is going to strain the Oklahoma economy and especially state revenues. Crude oil prices have dropped from more than $110 per barrel to approximately $80 per barrel over the last year, and some experts expect the decline to continue.
This has meant gasoline prices have dropped below $3 per gallon in some American cities, including Oklahoma City, but that savings doesn’t boost the overall state economy as much as a booming oil patch.
I don’t want to sound overly paranoid, but here are a couple of points to consider:
(1) It’s my belief and experience as a journalistic observer here that oil and gas companies are notable for short-term management and fiduciary practices detrimental to a stable energy supply and overall energy policy. These companies are like children eating too much candy and then getting sick. By this, I mean oil and gas companies almost always adopt and promote a boom mentality, if the conditions warrant, expanding their employee base and drilling as much as possible as the boom plays out. Once the boom goes bust, which it always does, employees are laid off in droves. In some cases, larger companies swallow up the assets of smaller companies. Of course, the big benefactors of this system are chief executive officers and other high-level members of oil and gas companies, who essentially take their millions of dollars and run, only to resurface again in the next boom. The cycle of boom and bust, which severely affects energy states like Oklahoma, will only stop when the country develops more renewable and cleaner energy supplies and adopts a sensible energy policy about fossil fuels. That seems highly unlikely over at least the next two years.
(2) It will be interesting to note how Republicans will criticize President Barack Obama over the oil glut. (Republicans, of course, blame Obama for everything.) The GOP has constantly depicted the president as anti-fossil fuels yet domestic oil production has doubled during his tenure. Basic facts like these somehow go unchallenged by Democrats or the president himself. Now that there’s an oil glut, with dropping prices, how will Republicans, with their majorities in the House and Senate, try to rescue the oil and gas companies they depend upon for campaign contributions or, to put it another way, their very sustenance as politicians. How many more tax breaks to oil and gas companies will the Republicans try to hand out under the rhetorical subterfuge of “American energy independence”?
The 1980s in Oklahoma, ironically the era of sacrosanct Republican former President Ronald Reagan, weren’t the best of times for the state economy to say the least. No one here wants to experience such a dramatic economic downturn again, but if we do it’s only fitting that the adoption of the nonsensical GOP “drill, baby, drill” slogan as energy policy will have been the main culprit. Thousands unemployed, plummeting state revenues, even more cuts to education and environmental damage on a large scale could be in our near future in Oklahoma. We’ve seen it before here, and it could happen again.
One of the most significant fallouts of Tuesday’s election, as I mentioned briefly in my last post, is that Oklahoma’s own U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe is expected to become chair again of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Republicans now have control of the Senate, and Inhofe is the ranking GOP member of the EPW Committee.
In short, this is extremely bad news for the planet. Inhofe, who will soon turn 80, has led a crusade through the years trying and failing to dispute scientific evidence that manmade carbon emissions have contributed to global warming. This crusade, which includes constant blithering criticism of the Environmental Protect Agency, has been the centerpiece of his political career. It has made him infamous throughout the world.
Those voters who supported Inhofe here, along with media outlets such as The Oklahoman, are directly responsible for what is or isn’t going to happen next when it comes to climate change. If this country declines to take action to help stop global warming and reduce carbon emissions, the planet’s future is bleak. It could be cataclysmic unless there’s an election correction in 2016.
As you know, Inhofe has called the science explaining climate change and global warming a “hoax.” The title of his 2012 book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, is a blunt, straightforward statement of his position. What Inhofe has done is help create the idea that there’s a raging “debate” about global warming when, in fact, there’s no debate. There’s only basic scientific evidence that the planet is getting warmer, the arctic ice cap is melting and sea levels are rising because of manmade carbon dioxide emissions. We might debate what we should do in light of this evidence, but the science is clear.
Inhofe has received a lot of national press attention after Tuesday’s election because he’s likely to become chair of the EPW Committee, which he led from 2003 to 2008. Here’s an excellent piece in The Washington Post about him.
What much of the recent coverage of Inhofe has failed to note, however, is how much campaign money he has received from the oil and gas industry through the years. Since 1989, Inhofe has received more than $1.7 million in campaign contributions from oil and gas interests, according to OpenSecrets.org. The media coverage usually notes in some form, of course, that Inhofe comes from a state rich in fossil fuels, but it doesn’t refer directly to the campaign money. Maybe this is because the direct relationship between a politician and the interests of his largest campaign contributors these days is so obvious that it doesn’t even need mentioning. I still think it does.
So let me state the obvious: Inhofe has always done the bidding of large oil and gas companies. As chair of the EPW Committee, he will have even more influence and power to serve their interests.
It’s unclear what exactly Inhofe can do in the next two years because of the potential for White House vetoes, but he is sure to create a lot of noise and engage in political theatrical performances over issues such as global warming and curbing power-plant emissions. He’s also going to support and encourage hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, an oil and gas extraction method, which is extremely harmful to the environment and has led to a glut in oil and gas production.
It’s going to be a frustrating two years, or even more, for people concerned about the environment and the overall health of the planet. As the New Republic proclaimed in an online headline about Inhofe, “Congratulations, Voters. You Just Made This Climate Denier the Most Powerful Senator on the Environment.”
Progressives and liberals here in conservative Oklahoma need to take a day or two to emotionally recover from the conservative landslide in Tuesday’s state election and then get right back to pushing for their values in the political scene.
That’s my advice after the carnage Tuesday, which included lopsided votes in favor of Republicans for the entire ballot’s statewide and Congressional and Senate offices, including the governor’s seat. Here’s another bit of bad news: Republicans picked up four seats in the state Senate and will now have a 40-8 advantage. Republicans continue to hold a huge majority in the House.
The national election results didn’t bring good news either as Republicans took control of the Senate. This will create even more gridlock and standoffs between the White House administration and the national House and Senate. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma’s infamous global warming denier who is about to turn 80, is even poised to become chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The planet is definitely in more danger now because of Inhofe’s intractable position on climate change, and that’s not hyperbole.
The political atmosphere over the next two years on both the state and federal level will definitely be frustrating and ugly for progressives. That’s why it’s important to keep fighting rather than give up. I believe there is hope for a massive correction on the national level in the 2016 election. It’s also possible the Oklahoma electorate will grow tired of the conservative extremism in state government by then but, frankly, a significant shift might be ten or more years away, and even that is uncertain to me.
The reasons for the demise of the Democratic Party in Oklahoma are myriad, some of which are outside its control. The party faces a hostile and blatantly unfair corporate media, which is not above distorting facts or omitting crucial information about political issues. There is the insidious paranoid anti-President Barack Obama hysteria anchored in racism and fueled subtly by many state media outlets. This racism then affects how voters perceive Democrats in general here. There are too many, dare I say arrogant, “leaders” and “activists” and “experts” who think they know the magic solution or want people to adopt their ideas or political approaches solely and not enough people who want to unite around some common causes despite differences in opinions. There are too many supposed progressives who sit scared on the sidelines and won’t speak up because of some exaggerated fear of reprisal.
Here’s how I view the political reality: There’s no one answer or one candidate here that can bring about change. Some of what we’re experiencing politically here is beyond our control. It might take a major crisis for change to occur or we might be slowly but surely heading to a statewide abyss. What happens after even more tax cuts here when the Oklahoma oil and gas boom goes bust, which it surely will?
But, today, the main worry for progressives here should be battle fatigue. How do we get back up after getting knocked down over and over again? How do we continue to support candidates when we know they are the better person for the office but also know they will lose by landslide margins and leave us open to mocking and ridicule by our opponents?
The only answer I have to these questions is for progressives to keep fighting. It may well be that you might not even live to see the change you fought for, but you would have lived a life based on reality and inclusive principles that include believing in equality and social justice for everyone. Change is sometimes extremely slow and incremental. Don’t give up.