Global Warming

Taking The Heat: Has The Fracking Boom Really Been Good For Oklahoma?

image of U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, his wife and Vice President Joe Biden in the recent U.S. Senate swearing-in ceremony

Scientists have just reported that 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded, providing more evidence that manmade carbon emissions are accelerating global warming and threatening to do more extensive damage to the planet’s ecosystems.

Here in Oklahoma, many people are worried about the world oil glut and lowering gasoline prices, which are already damaging the state’s economy. But it’s precisely the burning of fossil fuels produced in energy states like Oklahoma and elsewhere in other countries that is contributing to the much larger problem—some would argue the world’s greatest challenge—of climate change.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA, according to media reports, have concluded the average temperature in 2014 was, respectively, 58.24 and 58.42 degrees Fahrenheit. This is more than 1.2 degrees above the twentieth-century average. NOAA reported that nine of the ten warmest years ever recorded have come since 2000.

Meanwhile, scientists reported in September that Arctic sea ice was at its sixth lowest level ever recorded. Arctic ice reflects ice back into the atmosphere cooling the planet. Less ice means a warmer planet.

Scientists throughout the world have long argued that growing carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles and energy plants increase what is known as the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect, a natural phenomenon, is when carbon dioxide, methane gas and water vapor, get entrapped in the atmosphere causing the planet to stay warm.

But too much warmth can cause damage to the environment in several ways: Rising ocean levels caused by melting Arctic ice threatening coastline property, longer and harsher droughts diminishing the world’s food supply, extinction of wildlife disrupting natural habitats and extended heat waves killing people.

Some of those problems have obvious major consequences. For example, rising ocean levels could submerge millions of buildings and homes throughout the world in water, forcing massive human displacement. Droughts kill growing crops and reduce the drinking water supply. Other problems, such as wildlife disruption, which include insects, don’t necessarily have one clear and shared consequence, except in cases like fewer fish, a major world food source.

Republicans, most notably Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, have denied that manmade carbon emissions have contributed to global warming. It’s widely known that Inhofe claims scientists throughout the world are involved in a leftist conspiracy aimed at hurting oil and gas companies and that the warnings of the impact of global warming are simply a “hoax.” He has also argued that only a god could impact the environment in any major way.

“The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He [a god] is doing in the climate is to me outrageous,” Inhofe once said in an interview. That’s Inhofe and his wife with Vice President Joe Biden pictured right in a recent Senate swearing-in ceremony.

Inhofe is now chair of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and has announced he will fight to rollback rules by the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the environment from pollution while reducing carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, in other Oklahoma-related news, the hydraulic fracturing or fracking boom in this state and others has contributed to a world oil glut that has dropped the price of a barrel of oil below $50, a steep drop from the $100 to $110 a barrel range last summer. This means oil and gas companies here are planning to reduce production, which means fewer jobs and less tax revenue for the state.

So Oklahoma gets it all ways. The fracking bust could very well lead to a major economic downturn in Oklahoma, not experienced since the 1980s. Yet the fracking boom produced more of the carbon dioxide that leads to environmental crises, such as the current extreme drought in western Oklahoman that’s creating a major agricultural and water crisis in the state. Oklahoma also now leads the lower 48 states in the number of 3.0-magnitude or higher earthquakes, which scientists argue are caused by the wastewater injection well process used in the fracking process.

None of this will probably impact Inhofe’s quest to add as much carbon dioxide as possible to the planet’s atmosphere. It’s important to note Inhofe has received more that $1.7 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Back To The Bluster

Image of Jim Inhofe from TPM

Get ready for at least two more years of political blustering and stunts over climate change from Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who is expected to become chair again of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the EPW Committee, has wasted no time getting back into his contentious groove, and, in his new position, he will have no problem getting all the media attention he craves. This week, for example, he lambasted President Barack Obama for signing an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping to reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. It was widely reported.

According to Inhofe, the agreement is a “non-binding charade” and vows to fight the White House on new rules governing polluting emissions from power plants in this country. Inhofe is infamous for calling global warming a hoax and a left-wing conspiracy among scientists.

Of course, Inhofe misses the point that the agreement is supposed to be viewed on the world stage as a important symbolic gesture. How we monitor and measure a decline in carbon emissions over the years will always be problematic. What’s important is that there’s a discussion among important world leaders about climate change. For example, the agreement has spurred new discussions among Canadian government officials about curbing greenhouse gas emissions, according to a news report. That’s one of the points of such agreements between countries.

Under the agreement, the United States would reduce its carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025. China would cap its emissions by 2030 and commit to generating 20 percent of its energy from non fossil fuels sources by 2030.

China and the United States account for 45 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The agreement is ambitious, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be implemented in good faith. Any reduction in carbon emissions would be good for the planet. Right now, global warming threatens the world’s eco systems, and, in the future, rising sea levels due to climate change could wreak havoc on major coastal cites throughout the world. This could lead to major population migrations and severely depressed economies never experienced before.

It’s no secret that Inhofe will stand in the way of progress on reducing carbon emissions. As I have written before, most media outlets when reporting on Inhofe’s latest rage against Obama or environmentalists or climate scientists fail to note that he has received more than $1.7 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry in his political career, according to OpenSecrets.org. Inhofe is a de facto spokesperson for fossil-fuel profiteers and represents a state that is experiencing a major energy boom because of hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The fact that Inhofe’s financial ties to the oil and gas industry often go unmentioned is a testament to how the corporate media has complacently accepted and implicitly endorsed the role of big money in our political process.

I expect a political correction on a national level in the 2016 elections. Starting in 2015, however, Republicans will control the Senate and House for two years, and they are indicating they plan to block and stonewall any White House proposals, even to the point of shutting down the government. Inhofe will be a part of this onslaught when it comes to climate change. It’s apparent already the Republicans will overreach and remind voters of the George W. Bush presidency, which was a debacle of right-wing extremism, but that’s not going to make it any easier to stomach.

Global Warming Matters In Oklahoma

Image of wind turbines

NASA pointed out last week that the planet has just experienced the hottest six months on record, fanning fears the pace of global warming is accelerating.

The six-month period stretches from April through September. The months April, May, June and August were the hottest recorded for those months in history. According to one meteorologist who writes for Slate, “. . . global temperatures may have already passed a level that human civilization has never experienced.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon last week issued a report outlining how climate change should be a current factor in determining how the United States military should operate. One risk of climate change, for example, is the destabilization of foreign governments because of famine caused by drought or another major severe weather event, which can lead to unrest and extremism.

All this might seem far removed from Oklahoma, but that’s not the case for these following reasons:

(1) Just because it was a relatively cooler summer this year in Oklahoma doesn’t mean that it wasn’t steaming hot in other places on the planet or that overall mean temperatures didn’t increase. It’s the overall, larger frame that counts when it comes to global warming, not the day-to-day weather conditions. These new statistics could portend events and crises that could have a major impact in the state over the long term. Major ecological disasters, for example, could severely impact the world economy, which, in turn, could devastate Oklahoma’s own economy.

(2) Although Oklahoma experienced a relatively cooler and rainy summer, as I mentioned, extreme drought conditions persist in western Oklahoma, threatening water supplies and affecting agriculture. Is this related to climate change or just part of a multi-year cycle? It just makes common sense to at least consider factors such as increasing world temperatures when dealing with this question.

(3) Oklahoma continues to experience a record number of earthquakes, which scientists argue are caused by the injection well process used in the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, drilling method. The burning of fossil fuels, which then become carbon emissions, is at the heart of manmade global warming. So Oklahoma gets it both ways. The release of climate-changing fossil fuels from the ground also threatens the safety and property of Oklahoma residents through the potential of major earthquakes.

(4) U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who is on track for reelection this year in Oklahoma, is one of the world’s most well known deniers of manmade global warming despite the growing evidence that the planet is perilously close to major disasters because of climate change. Inhofe, it should be noted, has received more than $400,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry since 2009. Let’s be clear that a vote for Inhofe is a vote for an unregulated oil and gas industry that can do massive damage to the environment without penalty.

Drought and earthquakes here, combined with local political leaders who don’t believe in the scientific method, means Oklahomans have much at stake as the world grows hotter through the carbon emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Given the circumstances, it only makes sense here to increase the development of renewable energy sources that have less of a negative impact on the environment and to ban fracking entirely as some communities across the world have already done.

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