If a recent editorial in The Oklahoman is any indication, expect the state’s corporate power structure and most leading Republican politicians here to dismiss scientific studies suggesting a link between the drilling procedure known as fracking and earthquakes.
Expect also that the arguments against such a link will be filled with the same goofy logic and language employed by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and his supporters, which includes the editorial board of The Oklahoman, in their attempt to refute the overwhelming evidence of global warming and its devastating impact on the environment.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, which is banned in some countries, is a process in which water and additives are injected into rock layers to release vast, new resources of natural gas. Opponents of the process contend it can contaminate ground water and pollute the air. The 2010 documentary film, Gasland, outlined the environmental damage that can be caused by fracking.
Recently, some scientists have linked fracking to earthquakes in the United States and even England. The link led to a temporary suspension of the controversial drilling method in England. The basic argument is that the highly pressurized fluid injection of fracking near fault lines can lead to the type of conditions that produce earthquakes.
University of Oklahoma professor and seismologist Katie Keranen recently argued in an academic paper that the Nov. 5, 2011 earthquake, measured at 5.7 on the Richter scale, near Prague was likely caused by fracking. The earthquake, which caused some building damage in the area, is considered the largest in recent state history, according to the Tulsa World. Keranen’s findings didn’t necessarily receive widespread or sensationalized media attention here, but it did put the editorial board of The Oklahoman, which is owned by a right-wing oilman, on the defense.
The newpaper published an editorial titled “Earthquake scientists tracking the fracking,” on NewsOK.com Dec. 11. The somewhat goofy gist of the commentary is that since there’s not 100 percent proof the earthquake was caused by fracking, which might be impossible to determine anyway, then it’s a tie, and “Ties go to the runner in baseball. Assumptions about nature, when apparently tied, should go to nature.”
Essentially, then, the editorial argues in its silly way that the earthquake was a natural occurrence, not because of any evidence, but because the rules of baseball should dictate how we approach scientific findings and arguments. It’s really dumb, and the tone reminds me of Inhofe’s superstitious and ridiculous claims that the Bible disproves manmade global warming. This is what happens when people in power have no credible counter arguments to basic science; it’s the tragic story of mankind.
But, perhaps, the key paragraph in the commentary is this one:
When hydraulic fracturing unleashed an enormous reserve of hydrocarbons, environmentalists were quick to unfurl claims of frack-related water pollution, followed by claims of frack-related air pollution. The key concern about fracking among environmentalists isn't the alleged pollution itself but the gigantic leap in proven reserves, which means many years of relatively cheap, relatively plentiful fossil fuels.
Right, linking fracking to earthquakes is just part of the agenda of those sinister “environmentalists,” who conspire together in their secret solar-powered lairs to stop the production of fossil fuels. That’s just Inhofe verbatim. Why not just let him settle the fracking issue for us? Don’t think The Oklahoman won’t let him.
The editorial did receive some national attention from Media Matters, a media watchdog organization, which argued, “Despite the mounting evidence that oil and gas extraction could be harmful to our planet, The Oklahoman continues to disregard science and shut down any debate that might hurt its owner's financial interests.”
Philip Anschutz, who owns the newspaper, also owns an energy company that has sued a town because it banned fracking, according to Media Matters.
The larger story is that The Oklahoman, the propaganda ministry for the Republican Party here, can make it difficult for the state’s academics to pursue any type of research that it believes might jeopardize the state’s corporate status quo. The Oklahoman editorial board supports the state’s moneyed interests, and it could care less about truth or long-term damage to the environment or informing its dwindling readership about the compelling issues of our times.
We all know U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe thinks that climate-change science is a hoax, but does he believe air pollution is a hoax, too?
Inhofe, who leads the wacky, fringe effort to deny global warming, wants to eliminate a federal rule that limits the amount of mercury and other harmful chemicals power plants release into the air. The rule, according to Inhofe, is part of President Barack Obama’s “war on coal.”
Inhofe, according to media reports, is trying to use the Congressional Review Act to stop new emission standards by the Environmental Protection Agency, arguing they will “bankrupt the coal industry.” According to media reports, Inhofe said the new rule will result in job losses, which doesn’t make basic sense because electricity has to be produced one way or another.
We knew Inhofe was essentially a spokesperson for the oil and gas industry, but who knew he was such an ardent supporter of coal interests? His support of the coal industry actually collides with the interests of the natural gas industry. Some electric plants have converted coal turbines to natural gas turbines because gas is considered by some to be a cleaner energy source.
The larger issue, though, is Inhofe’s apparent dismissal of air pollution.
According to Audubonmagazine.org:
Mercury exposure in unborn children is linked to nervous system damage, and the EPA estimates that limiting mercury emissions will avoid 4,200 to 11,00 premature deaths. The regulations also limit emissions of sulfur-dioxide and fine particulate matter, which exacerbate asthma and other respiratory problems. Limiting sulfur-dioxide will even help plants breath easier, because it contributes to acid rain.
None of that appears to matter to Inhofe.
Inhofe’s effort to stop the rule was called “over the top” by U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat, but Inhofe’s senate career has been defined by such extremism. What else is new, right?
As I’ve written before, Inhofe gets away with his anti-science agenda at least partially because the corporate media in this state doesn’t appropriately investigate or critique his claims. Sure, The Oklahoman will run stories in which people criticize Inhofe’s actions, but the newspaper won’t hold him to a basic truth standard.
Those local people defending CEO Aubrey McClendon in the onslaught of recent media criticism should realize that the real issue for this area is keeping Chesapeake Energy Corp. in Oklahoma City as a viable business that employs a large number of people.
It’s about the company, not one man and his “lavish and leveraged life.” Rank and file employees at Chesapeake are undoubtedly more focused on whether they are going to have jobs or not over the employment fate of their ultra-rich boss.
If McClendon, pictured right, is the person who can keep the company intact and in Oklahoma City despite falling natural gas prices that have led to a steep drop in the company’s stock price, then so be it. If not, then McClendon will be fine, folks. Don’t worry.
None of that is to excuse some of his actions. Reuters has reported that McClendon and his family on one vacation took flights that cost $108,000 that he later charged as a business expenses. Some nine female friends of McClendon’s wife flew to Bermuda in 2010 for $23,000 at the company’s expense, the news agency also reported.
Are these expenses a part of a pattern of excess and irresponsibility in the operation of a public company, and do they show McClendon lacks judgment or perhaps at one time felt invincible or both? Note the word “public” in the last sentence. Shareholders have a right and responsibility to hold McClendon accountable and make the company’s business as transparent as possible.
More importantly, as Reuters has reported, McClendon has until now “put longtime friends on the Chesapeake board and showered them with compensation.” Did friendship and the large compensation, which is estimated at more than $500,000 annually for board members, contribute to the company’s financial decline through the rubber stamping of McClendon’s aggressive business model?
As we know, McClendon is no longer chairman of the Chesapeake board of directors, and two board members, Burns Hargis and Richard Davidson, have resigned after shareholders refused to support them with a majority vote. More board changes are expected. McClendon remains as the company’s chief executive.
Hargis’ former role in the company seems especially interesting given that he’s president of Oklahoma State University. Shouldn’t a president of a public research university feel a special responsibility to fiduciary duty as a leader in a public company, especially in a company that has such a major economic impact in his state?
The bottom line, though, is that natural gas prices have plunged in the wake of a mild winter exposing McClendon’s strategy to rapidly purchase and drill. Things would probably be different for the company if the country would have experienced a frigid winter this year, but that’s the natural gas business. The country could experience a mild winter next year, too.
In the end, what’s important for all of us in this area of the state is that the company continues to contribute to the local economy in a major way. It would be devastating for the Oklahoma City area if Chesapeake were relocated or tremendously downsized if sold off in pieces.
For better or worse, in a sense, we’re all in this together here. I’m rooting for the company, not one man.