Could recent protests against the oil and gas drilling process known as fracking trickle up I-35 to Oklahoma from the north Texas city of Denton?
A group of anti-fracking protestors in Denton has forced the city council there to take their concerns seriously after a petition drive calling for a ban on the process collected about 2,000 signatures. The council recently voted 5 to 2 against issuing the fracking ban, but the fact such a vote was even taken in a Texas city—just north of Dallas—has the oil and gas industry paying attention.
Those opposed to fracking in the area argue it can create heath problems. Environmentalists have long contended that fracking leads to water contamination. Wastewater disposal wells used in the fracking process have been linked to earthquakes here in Oklahoma and elsewhere.
In the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process, chemicals and water are injected by high pressure into rock formations to release gas and oil. The wastewater from the process is then often stored in underground wastewater disposal injection wells.
In the Denton case, government officials had to weigh the rights of mineral owners in the Barnett Shale area against the health and pollution concerns of the wider public. In Oklahoma, the issue has seemingly become narrower. A dramatic surge in earthquakes over the last three years or so has been tied by scientists to disposal wells. A recent town hall in Edmond about the issue attracted several hundred people concerned about their property and safety. Some people have suggested the state place a moratorium on injection wells.
The larger point is that these protests against the fracking process are most likely to continue as the oil and gas boom continues here in Oklahoma, Texas and elsewhere. The oil and gas industry, for now, has no motivation to admit any culpability when things go wrong and no amount of scientific evidence will probably convince it to do things differently. It’s going to take coordinated grassroots protest movements like the one in Denton and the town hall in Edmond to change things.
Gov. Mary Fallin’s large drop in her voter approval level opens up a real opportunity for her Democratic opponent Joe Dorman in the November election.
Until now, the prevailing wisdom has been that Fallin and her Republican colleagues are virtually invincible given the unpopularity of President Barack Obama and the supposed trickle-down effect on the Democratic ticket in Oklahoma.
But a recent poll, conducted by SoonerPoll for the Tulsa World, shows Fallin’s approval rating has dropped by 19 points from last September to early June. What especially bodes well for Dorman is that her approval rating among registered Democrats has dropped approximately 14 points, from 56 percent to 42 percent during this time frame. Obviously, Dorman has to win his own party substantially to become governor.
In a short article accompanying the poll results SoonerPoll’s Bill Shapard said that Fallin’s decline in approval could be because of her refusal to expand Medicaid here under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and “revolt against important elements of the governor’s education agenda.”
These arguments ring true, although Fallin’s support for controversial and outgoing State School Superintendent Janet Barresi and her actions is probably more of a factor in terms of swaying political opinion. The ACA, of course, known as ObamaCare, is the president’s signature legislature, and other Oklahoma politicians, such as Attorney General Scott Pruitt, have seemingly used their criticism of it to their political advantage. Is that changing?
Another argument is that many voters here are recognizing that the Republican-dominated government is not serving their interests by cutting pensions, disallowing cities from setting their own minimum wage and giving huge tax breaks to the oil and gas industry, which scientists now argue are causing the dramatic surge in earthquakes here with their drilling processes.
After the November election, Obama will have only two more years in office. Is it possible that some Oklahoma voters are simply resigned to this now and are becoming more focused on a local level? What is going to be the point of denigrating lame duck Obama over and over once the 2016 presidential campaign begins in earnest and there are new punching bags to work over.
Dorman should continue to link Fallin to Barresi’s draconian approach to high-stakes testing in the state and the botched A-F assessment of schools. Fallin supported these initiatives. There’s no reason to use attack language to show the connection, which is clear and on record. A measured plan to develop new education standards would probably work well right now against the Fallin-Barresi, schools-are-failing hyperbole.
I also believe the staggering increase in earthquakes in the state has become an election-year issue. (Oklahoma now leads the nation in the number of earthquakes.) A recent earthquake in Harrah, for example, caused damage to some buildings. Scientists have tied the earthquakes to wastewater disposal wells used in the oil and gas fracking processes. Is this an opportunity for Dorman as well? How can we reconcile the interests of property owners with sensible drilling regulations?
There’s no doubt that Dorman, much like former Gov. Brad Henry, is a centrist Democrat in an extremely conservative state. I didn’t agree with every Henry policy, but as the conservative juggernaut swept into office, the former governor gave the state political balance. Dorman can do the same, and now he has an opponent sinking in the polls.
A new study ranks Oklahoma high in “tightness,” or perhaps it might be better to describe it as “uptightness.” It’s not bombshell news for many of us here, but uptightness does influence the quality and personal freedom of day-to-day life here
Two University of Maryland psychologists, Jesse R. Harrington and Michele J. Gelfand, have developed a theory they call “tightness-looseness,” which they use to rank geographical places. As you might expect, tight places have little tolerance for people breaking minor rules or living outside the box while loose places give people more leeway to express themselves freely.
Oklahoma is ranked the fourth tightest state, right under, respectively, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. As you might expect, most of the tight states have numerous negative social problems, such as high incarceration rates, and poor medical access. They have more consistent severe weather. They have fewer artists, such as writers and painters. In Oklahoma’s case, I would definitely stress that overt right-wing religious extremism palpable here on a daily basis is a part of our “tightness.”
The report notes "a negative and linear relationship between tightness and happiness.” That means the authors make the claim that, overall, people in loose states are happier than people in tight states. How happiness gets measured on any scale seems problematic to me, but I tend to agree generally with the assumption, especially when you examine depression and anxiety levels.
The ranking corresponds pretty much to the red state/blue state divide in the country and, consequently, the information could have substantive political potential. Yet I wonder if the study really only gives an academic frame that most open-minded and progressive people here in Oklahoma already known in a deep-seated manner. Sometimes, it takes a visit elsewhere to make it more manifest. In the freedom of Paris recently, I was struck by this very dichotomy.
Tea Party voters here yell “freedom” at every opportunity but it’s difficult to know what they mean on a personal level. Oklahoma is a place with oppressive laws, from the banning of same-sex marriage to the arcane restrictions on alcohol to the severe implementation of draconian drug laws. Because of our tightness, we end up with poor health outcomes and depression.
For some of us who stayed in Oklahoma and made our lives here for whatever reason or responsibility, this study probably just states the obvious. It can be suffocating to live here. The local, mainstream news, for example, is often enough to remind us of this place’s ultra-tightness level. The solution, of course, is to seek open-minded communities and friendship groups, which do exist here. This is easier for some people more than others. We can work to change things as well, but success can only be measured in generational terms at this point.
The bottom line is that tight Oklahoma can be an oppressive place for open-minded people. I believe we lose an extraordinary number of creative people to other places because of the overall ambience of sternness and intolerance here.