The U.S. Geological Survey has determined that the large rise in the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma in recent years might be partly attributed to the wastewater disposal methods used in oil and gas drilling techniques.
In a statement released recently, the USGS noted there were one to three earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or more from 1975 to 2008. Since that time, the state has averaged 40 earthquakes of 3.0 magnitudes or more on an annual basis, according to the USGS, which has labeled the increase a “swarm.”
This information has important implications for Oklahomans in terms of personal safety and building codes. Is it only a matter of time before a major earthquake hits Oklahoma and does major damage?
According to the USGS statement, “the analysis suggests that a contributing factor to the increase in earthquakes triggers may be from activities such as wastewater disposal--a phenomenon known as injection-induced seismicity.”
Injection wells for wastewater are part of the hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” drilling process. The wastewater from the fracking process and other drilling methods is injected into the ground, which could cause instability and stresses in rock layers. Studies in recent years have suggested a link between injection wells and earthquakes here and elsewhere in the world. Fracking has also been blamed for water contamination in some areas by environmental activists.
Should oil and gas companies be held accountable for the increase in seismic activity? Oil and gas companies have contributed much to the Oklahoma economy for decades, but could their drilling techniques lead to major destruction here? Will the end of the fossil fuel era be marked by damaging earthquakes?
These are not simply hyperbolic questions, and the mounting evidence suggests they need to be discussed.
The USGS noted that Oklahoma has always been prone to earthquakes, but “the increased hazard has important implications for residents and businesses in the area.” The USGS pointed to the 5.6 magnitude earthquake near Prague in 2011, and recent earthquakes just east of Oklahoma City that measured 4.2 and 4.4. There were several earthquakes in central Oklahoma on Saturday and at least one on Sunday. I think it’s fair to argue that the large increase in earthquakes is an alarming issue here in Oklahoma, and it’s probably not getting enough attention. Will it take a major earthquake to wake up people?
As I mentioned, there is now a growing number of studies that suggest injection wells and fracking can be tied to an increase in earthquakes. If the oil and gas industry here and elsewhere will not respond to this obvious dilemma with solutions, then the state and federal government should step in to protect people and their property.
It was revealed this week that some Oklahoma state agency heads are receiving astronomical raises while regular state worker salaries continue to remain stagnant.
Here are some of the numbers: Oklahoma Tourism Executive Director Deby Snodgrass recently received a $40,000 pay increase; Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation Director Stan Florence recently received a $47,000 pay increase; Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Director Terri White recently received a $40,000 pay increase.
No matter how you qualify it, those are substantial raises, especially in a state like Oklahoma.
According to media reports, the raises were based on information presented to state leaders by a consulting firm, the Hay Group, which found the salaries for at least some top state positions to be low.
Regular state workers, whose salaries are also under review, haven’t received an across-the-board raise for several years. The raises for those at the top are a real slap in the face for them, and for other rank and file employees, such as teachers and state troopers.
It would be nice to get a $40,000 a year raise, wouldn’t it? Do you think that is going to happen for dedicated teachers, social workers and first responders?
It remains to be seen if leaders in the GOP-dominated state government will consider raises for all state workers once the salary issue has been studied, but if it doesn’t happen or if the raises are minimal, it should come as no surprise.
The Oklahoman editorial page, of course, supported the raises and argued the backlash was simply unavoidable, but the sheer size of the raises are a real issue in a state where education funding has been shrinking and state workers have gone without raises for years. It’s a matter of priorities, not perception. I’m sure the state could find someone to do Snodgrass’ job just as competently at her pre-raise salary of $86,000.
Better yet, here’s an idea: Why don’t we just make $86,000 the starting salary for new teachers and social workers?
I’m not begrudging anyone a raise, but the vast majority of state workers have a right to be terribly frustrated with this latest news.
In the end, former state Rep. Randy Terrill’s demise was marked publicly by the same type of generalizations and paranoia he used to pass one of the strictest anti-illegal immigration laws in the country years before.
After testifying in his trial, Terrill, who was convicted of political bribery Tuesday, told reporters, “This prosecution has done more damage to our political system than anything that I can think of in recent history.” Really? What about the testimony of witnesses? What about the actual case, the actual evidence?
The prosecution had argued that Terrill, who served as a Republican, offered then state Sen. Debbe Leftwich a job in the medical examiner’s office in exchange for not running for reelection. Leftwich, a Democrat, also faces political bribery charges. Terrill, prosecutors contended, tried to create the job through last-minute legislation and was hoping to help his friend, state Rep. Mike Christian, win Leftwich’s seat. The legislation was later vetoed by former Gov. Brad Henry.
The 12-person jury convicted Terrill of the charge early Tuesday evening and recommended a one-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine.
Terrill’s comments to reporters displayed the same type of paranoid attitude he used when pushing House Bill 1804 in 2007. That was the anti-illegal immigration bill that made national headlines. I wrote about it here.
Here is some of the bill’s initial language:
The State of Oklahoma finds that illegal immigration is causing economic hardship and lawlessness in this state and that illegal immigration is encouraged by public agencies within this state that provide public benefits without verifying immigration status.
Just like his reported comments about the damage caused by his prosecution, the illegal immigration claims were sweeping generalizations that seemed devoid of real substance. What about the evidence? How exactly are illegal immigrants “causing economic hardship”?
But if those Democrats who actually opposed Terrill’s bill, which was signed into law by Henry in 2007, are thinking he has received some type of political karmic comeuppance, they should remind themselves that this bribery case is definitely a bipartisan affair.
Leftwich, a Democrat, was elected to her late husband’s Senate seat during a special election in 2003. Her late husband, Keith, who died of cancer that year, has both a college library and a stretch of interstate named for him, indicating he was generally revered as a politician. The charges against Debbe Leftwich were greeted with shock by some Democrats at the time they were announced and they obviously don’t help the party itself. Her trial is set for December.
Right now, one person who seems above the political fray is Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who once again carefully considered evidence and proceeded in what he knew was going to be a high-profile case. His office presented a thorough case that won over jurors.
Terrill says he plans to appeal his case, and he may well win, but for now he’s a convicted felon. Political bribery remains a serious charge in our culture. It’s wrong, and it should be punished. That’s how the jury also apparently viewed it.
In the end, Terrill’s comments about the alleged damage caused by his prosecution is just another generalization that will go down the collective memory hole of Oklahomans who even cared about this trial. Terrill is doing himself no favors.