(Here is a Time magazine story about organizations seeking donations for relief efforts in Nepal. Be sure to carefully check out any organization before donating money to it.)
The television and online images of the horrific damage caused by the recent 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal killing more than 5,000 will probably cause an extra dose of anxiety here in Oklahoma.
As earthquakes rumble through central Oklahoma on a daily basis, scientists are predicting the manmade quakes here could be leading us to large one that could cause massive damage. Could it be as bad as the earthquake in Nepal? Yes. Who can say “no” for sure?
Here are some similarities to consider: Nepal and Oklahoma are not prepared for such an earthquake in terms of the how its buildings were constructed. Both places are in earthquake-prone areas. Oklahoma, just like Nepal, doesn’t have an adequate first-responder system trained specifically for earthquakes.
In Nepal’s case, these issues are geological, systemic and related to poverty. In Oklahoma’s case, it’s the fracking process, a matter of lack of experience with earthquakes and what is seemingly emerging as a willful effort to keep information about the earthquakes here from its citizens.
Studies show Oklahoma now leads the contiguous United States in the number of earthquakes 3.0-magnitude or above because of oil and gas activities, specifically the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process. In that process, wastewater is injected underground by high pressure. It’s believed now by scientists that this injection well process has been triggering earthquakes along the state’s fault lines over the last several years during the fracking boom here.
Generally speaking, the oil and gas industry initially denied any role in the earthquakes. That has become somewhat more ambiguous and varying. But it’s highly unlikely any company related to the injection well process would simply take legal responsibility as quake after quake hits us here in central Oklahoma.
Some people no doubt will accuse me of fear mongering because of the Nepal comparison. Nepal, for example, is situated in a region historically prone to large earthquakes, but Oklahoma has hundreds of injection wells and has already experienced a 5.7-magnitude earthquake near Prague in 2011. The state has experienced some earthquakes in the 4.0- to 4.8-magnitude range since then.
As the shaking continues on a daily so does a steady stream of news about how state officials, in particular, have either tried to hide or have been slow in conveying information about the earthquakes to its citizens.
A post on EnergyWire Monday claimed that emails show the Oklahoma Geological Survey has known since 2007 that oil and gas activity is related to the earthquakes. Written by Mike Soraghan, the post points out:
Instead, the agency, commonly called by its initials, OGS, accepted thousands of dollars' worth of seismic equipment from the company that scientists suspected of causing the quakes, Tulsa-based New Dominion LLC. And for years, they told the public the quakes were natural.
This news comes after we learned that OGS seismologist Austin Holland was asked to attend a 2013 meeting with University of Oklahoma President David Boren and Harold Hamm, the head of the oil and gas corporation Continental Resources, to discuss the earthquake issue.
To be fair, the OGS just recently issued a statement that it was likely the earthquakes have been caused by oil and gas activities. The state has also created a web site that includes information that connects the earthquakes to injection wells. But we’ve known this information for a long time now.
Independent scientists, who have been conducting studies, and the U.S. Geological Survey have been more adamant over the last couple of years at least that injection wells have led to the surge of local earthquakes.
Although the OGS and the state government now seem to acknowledge that Oklahoma has a serious earthquake problem that can be related to oil and gas activity, the only major legal action taken so far has been to protect the interests of the oil and gas industry. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has made some small tweaks on collecting information about injection wells, but a bill making its way through the Oklahoma Legislature would prohibit cities from banning fracking activities within their jurisdictions.
Nearly a year ago, the USGS, in conjunction with OGS, issued an earthquake warning for Oklahoma telling its citizens that it should prepare for large earthquakes 5.0-magnitude or above.
The only sensible action at this point seems to be shutting down and issuing moratoriums on new wastewater injection wells, but that’s unlikely to happen given the political clout of the oil and gas industry and its economic importance to the state.
Photographs from the Nepal earthquake have shown before and after shots of some of its historic shrines, which were reduced to practically nothing but debris and ashes in the recent earthquake.
How could any concerned, rational and literally rattled Oklahoman not make the comparison between those photographs and what could happen to their homes here?
The new law here making the administration of nitrogen gas the second alternative when the state executes people is simply a reminder of how barbaric the death penalty remains in Oklahoma.
Gov. Mary Fallin signed the bill into law about 10 days ago. The bill is a response to the botched execution by lethal injection of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett last year and the dwindling supplies of drugs used in the process. Lethal injection in death penalty cases, first passed by law in Oklahoma, still remains the principal form of execution here.
Executions in Oklahoma, Florida and Alabama have recently been halted by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is hearing a case brought by Oklahoma inmates over the state’s lethal-injection process. Meanwhile, drug companies have been put under pressure to stop manufacturing the types of drugs use in lethal-injection executions or to stop supplying them to states for that purpose, and this has created a shortage.
Whatever the outcome of that court case, the death penalty, in general, and Oklahoma’s apparent zeal to apply it, remains morally dubious. The recent botched execution of Lockett—he kicked his legs while his body squirmed during the process before dying 43 minutes after the drugs were administered—put the state in the media spotlight in a negative manner once again. The nitrogen gas bill does the same thing.
There is no definitive proof that the death penalty deters crime. A study last year showed 4 percent of people sentenced to die are innocent of their crimes. Those who oppose the death penalty argue there is no painless way to kill someone, making it a form of state-sanctioned torture. The death penalty is gruesome and archaic. It’s also racist. People from minority groups are sentenced to death disproportionally higher than the rest of the population. It’s also a costly, long drawn out legal process for states, which would be better off spending more money on education rather than executing people.
The use of the death penalty has been in decline in the nation, according to the National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty, but . . . “”the flaws and failures of the death penalty are more apparent than ever.” The organization notes, “18 States and the District of Columbia do not have the death penalty” and “30 states have not carried out an execution in the last 5 years.”
Oklahoma, unfortunately, has been in the media spotlight on this issue for decades. The majority of its lawmakers through the years have adopted a radical retribution mentality when it comes to crime. This is why the state has some of the highest incarceration rates in the country.
The bill passed and signed into law makes nitrogen “hypoxia” the second back-up method of execution, followed by the electric chair and a firing squad. The Washington Post recently reported, “It is not clear if nitrogen gas has been used as a formal method of execution before, but there do not appear to be any cases.”
Proponents of the bill say death by nitrogen gas is painless, but no one can definitely know that. The only people who would know that for sure would be dead.
I’m against the death penalty, but I realize the nation has historically debated this issue and now seems slowly but surely on a path to end it. What seems clear, however, is that Oklahoma’s national image has been damaged recently by Lockett’s botched execution and now its obsession with quickly finding a new way to kill people. With Oklahoma in the national television news these days for a variety of negative reasons, this is something the state just doesn’t need.
As I pointed out in my last post, it appears the state has finally acknowledged the link between the dramatic surge in the number of earthquakes here and the fracking process.
But just after that happened, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed legislation that limits cities and towns from prohibiting oil and gas companies from fracking in their jurisdictions. Here’s a story on the legislation.
So it sure makes it seem like the state’s new web site on the earthquake issue, which discusses the link between wastewater disposal wells and earthquakes, doesn’t really mean much.
One of the measures, Senate Bill 809, which prohibits cities from banning fracking, passed the House on a 64-32 vote and will return to the Senate. It’s expected to pass since the Senate passed an earlier version of the bill.
All this comes after voters in Denton, Texas last year voted to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in their city. Cities in Ohio and California have also recently banned fracking as well. The entire state of New York has also banned the process. As the devastating environmental impact of fracking becomes more apparent, people are starting to act through protest and the ballot process.
Oklahoma lawmakers are acting preemptively in the interests of oil and gas companies and those who get royalty checks, but in the process they are taking away the rights of other citizens to protect their property and their own safety. Allowing people local control over their lives has always been a conservative tenet, but the power of the oil and gas lobby appears to trump that idea.
Here’s the bottom line: There are plenty of places to frack for oil and gas in Oklahoma. Why even do it near high-population areas or major water supplies?
In the fracking process, water laced with chemicals is injected by high pressure into deep underground rock formations that create fissures that release oil and gas. The wastewater from this process is then injected deep underground into disposal wells. Scientists believe it is the wastewater disposal or “injection” well process that has now made Oklahoma the leader in the number of 3.0-magnitude earthquakes in the contiguous United States.
Scientists also believe Oklahoma could experience a major earthquake causing major damage because of the seismic activity. Many Oklahomans are rightly concerned that the constant earthquakes are causing damage to their homes and other property. Environmentalists have also contended for years that fracking leads to water contamination.
Right now, a world oil glut has decreased the number of fracking operations in the state, but any major event or shift in geo-politics could change that quickly. Meanwhile, Oklahoma faces a real crisis when it comes to all these earthquakes, which shake our homes on a regular basis now. We need more than a web site.