One of the strongest earthquakes in Oklahoma so far in 2014 struck north of Crescent Sunday, just one of several earthquakes that rattled the area.
There were no immediate reports of major property damage and injuries, but the temblors are a stark reminder that the state is experiencing a dramatic rise in seismic activity, which has been tied to the hydraulic fracturing or fracking drilling process.
A 4.4-magnitude earthquake hit north of Crescent at 9:10 a.m. Sunday and was just one of twelve earthquakes in the area that started after midnight, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported. A 4.3-magnitude earthquake struck in the same area at 1:51 a.m., according to the USGS. Crescent is about 43 miles north of Oklahoma City.
The earthquakes raise two important questions. Is it only a matter of time before a major earthquake strikes and causes significant damage and injuries in Oklahoma? Why aren’t state leaders doing more to address the issue?
Researchers have concluded that a 5.7-magnitude earthquake that struck near Prague in 2011, damaging several buildings, was likely caused by wastewater injection wells used in the fracking process. Wastewater generated by fracking is injected by high pressure in underground wells, which researchers have concluded can lead to seismic activity along fault lines.
The Oklahoma Geological Survey notes that “about 99% of the earthquakes that have occurred in Oklahoma over the past few years also lie within 9 miles” of a wastewater injection well.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission recently approved new rules requiring injection well operators to collect and retain more data related to their operations, but the rules must also be approved by the Oklahoma Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. The oil and gas lobby is one of the most powerful political forces in the state. The lobby has not opposed the new rules, but it would surely oppose a much-needed moratorium on injection wells or more intense regulations governing their operations.
Given the dramatic surge in earthquakes here and for the basic safety and welfare of state residents, the wisest action would be to stop all injection well operations until scientists can further study the issue.
What has become increasingly clear in recent years is that fracking and its related processes are environmentally damaging to our planet and threaten people’s health, safety and property. All this points to the continued need in this country to develop renewable and clean energy sources.
Not that it’s anything new, but U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe issued a rather dramatic and hyperbolic statement related to a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing this week.
Inhofe, a member of the committee, addressed his remarks to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy, complaining that the agency is “out of control.” Inhofe contends the EPA continues to “enact outlandish rules of obscene cost and harm to the economy . . .”
This is fairly typical rhetoric for Inhofe, who has based much of his Senate career on denying the reality of climate-change science and supporting the financial interests of the fossil fuel industry. Oil and gas interests have been Inhofe’s largest campaign donors through the years.
What makes it noteworthy, though, is that Inhofe is claiming that if Republicans gain a majority in the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections, he will once again head the EPW Committee, which could be disastrous to the environment here and, really, throughout the world.
Inhofe’s statement argued rules governing emissions from power plants that use coal will result in lost jobs and higher prices, but these are tired and worn claims that simply ignore the impact and cost of pollution.
Inhofe claims the rules are just a part of the “ . . . EPA’s War on Fossil Fuels.” This is how the statement ends:
. . . EPA’s impact may be coal now, but we know it’s going to be natural gas next. Whether it’s hydraulic fracturing or methane emissions, the EPA is intent to carry out what the Sierra Club has named it’s “Beyond Natural Gas” campaign, just as the EPA did with Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign. We in the Senate have been charged with stewarding this nation, which includes watching out for those who are most vulnerable. The elderly, the poor – these are the people who are most at risk from losing their homes or their health due to skyrocketing electricity bills, which is exactly what will happen under the EPA’s War on Fossil Fuels. It’s our job to watch out for them, and it just so happens that the entity we need to protect them from is a seemingly unlikely source – it’s President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency.
Note the sanctimonious reference to the “elderly, the poor,” as if Inhofe has ever made their concerns and interests a real focus of his Senate political agenda. In fact, his political career has been rooted in helping the wealthy and privileged in our country at the expense of everyone else. Note, too, the standard GOP bashing of President Barack Obama. This type of political rhetoric and grandstanding doesn’t get more hollow than this.
Meanwhile, as Inhofe supposedly frets about the “elderly, the poor” in Washington, his home state of Oklahoma is experiencing a dramatic spike in earthquakes that has been tied to the hydraulic fracturing or fracking drilling process. For many parts of Oklahoma, daily earthquakes are just routine now. Oklahoma had the second highest number of earthquakes in the contiguous U.S. in 2013. Does anyone here think Inhofe will push for stronger regulations in the oil and gas drilling process to stop the earthquake surge here?
Pundits predict Inhofe will easily win reelection this November, and that’s not good for Oklahoma or the planet. If he does become chair of the EPW Committee, it will be even worse.
The Common Core spectacle at the state Capitol is once again showing the wide schism in the Republican Party in Oklahoma.
On one side are the Republicans who oppose the uniformed K-12 educational standards that were initially adopted by 45 states. They are led at this point, it seems to me, by Gov. Mary Fallin who issued a recent statement in support of ditching Common Core standards for English, language arts and mathematics and developing new state standards.
After the Senate Education Committee voted to approve a bill that does just that, Fallin said:
As we work to increase classroom rigor and raise the academic bar in our schools, I have been clear that Oklahoma must take the lead in developing and implementing our own standards and assessments. To protect the principle of local control, and to resist federal overreach from Washington and the Obama administration, I signed last year an executive order outlining Oklahoma's independence in implementing higher standards and student assessments.
Note the anti-President Barack Obama and federal government rhetoric. In Oklahoma these days, that’s a clear political winner no matter what the issue or how much it’s stretched, especially in this case. Obama supports Common Core, but the federal government didn’t develop the standards. It was education leaders and the National Governors Association that did it.
On the other side of the issue on the Republican side are the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and the state’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, an ultra-conservative publication. A recent editorial in The Oklahoman argued “ . . . opponents rarely criticize the actual standards. Most opposition is based on innuendo, conjecture, misinformation and disinformation.”
What gets lost in all the bickering over federal control are teachers and students.
Teachers here have prepared for months to implement the standards. If Oklahoma ends Common Core, all their work has gone for nothing. They will have to start over with new state standards. That will be demoralizing.
Students are left behind by sudden changes in curriculum and mixed messaging by authority figures over basic intellectual knowledge. They become political footballs tossed around by two GOP groups as the intraparty fighting continues over how best to criticize Obama rather than educate students.
Meanwhile, the GOP has allowed state funding to schools since 2008 to drop on a percentage basis more than any other state in the nation.
Indiana has become the first state to stop implementing Common Core after signing on to the new standards, and other states, especially conservative states, will probably follow their example. With Fallin’s support, Oklahoma could easily follow Indiana’s example.
The idea that states shouldn’t share standards because of a presumed overarching federal control ignores globalization and the impact of the Information Age on the world’s knowledge base. We live in an extremely connected world these days. Isolation is really no longer an option. Oklahoma should always look elsewhere for standards that clearly work.
The idea that Oklahoma schools, in particular, should be “protected from federal interference,” as Fallin has argued when it comes to Common Core, doesn’t mean much when it comes to basic intellectual development of students. Does any Republican, including Fallin, really believe that the federal government is against students becoming proficient in math and English, that it will somehow interfere with that process?
But then it’s an election year, and this type of reductionist sloganeering works here.