Rising Sea Levels Will Impact Oklahoma

Image of electric car in Amsterdam

A new scientific study has determined that burning all the fossil fuel deposits on earth would increase the world’s temperatures so much it would eventually melt all the ice in Antarctica.

That would lead to rising sea levels so large it would destroy major cities in the world, create massive migration and generate huge food shortages leading to starvation, according to an article in The New York Times about the study.

I won’t rehash in detail the article or the study, which can be found here. The study notes the melting could take place over a thousand years if humans don’t do anything significant to curb carbon emissions, but it does raise questions over the short-term for Oklahoma, a state rich in fossil fuels and heavily tied to the oil and gas industry.

Here are four of those questions:

(1) As it becomes more evident that global warming in coming years is damaging the planet, how and when will renewable and less harmful energy sources displace the oil and gas industry here?

(2) Will renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, create as much economic development locally as the oil and gas industry?

(3) Oklahomans have endured the boom and bust cycles of the oil and gas industry for generations, but what if the “bust” was permanent and the state has failed to diversify its economy?

(4) How should Oklahoman leaders envision, say, the state in 100 years if there was little to no oil and gas production here?

When compared to the millions and millions of years it takes dead organisms to decompose and form the fossils we burn for energy, The Fossil Fuel age, or The Oil Age, will be a small blip in the planet’s history if there’s anyone left to record it.

So far the response from many Oklahoma leaders to global warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions is basic denial. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, for example, has based much of his Senate career on this denial, but as the evidence of global warming becomes increasingly clear, Oklahoma leaders will need to envision a day when the oil and gas industry is severely limited or non-existent here.


Wastewater Spills Raise Another Fracking Issue

Image of wind turbines

(It’s exciting news that Democrat Cyndi Munson picked up the House District 85 seat in an election Tuesday. That northwest Oklahoma City district had been considered safely Republican for at east 50 years. Does her victory portend more Democratic victories in at least the local Oklahoma City political scene? I’ll discuss the issue here soon.)

It’s worth noting that all the grim and dire predictions made by environmentalists for years about the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boom in this country are slowly getting recognized and sanctioned by the traditional corporate media and other businesses.

Recently, the credit rating services company, Standard and Poor’s issued an analysis showing how earthquakes caused by the injection well process used in fracking had created financial risks for home and property owners, mortgage lenders and insurance companies, and it also raised questions about liability.

Now the Associated Press has prepared an analysis of wastewater spills related to oil and gas drilling. The analysis found that at least 175 millions gallons of wastewater spilled in several states it studied from 2009 to 2014. The analysis points out that the gallon number might be too low because many spills are not officially noted.

Oklahoma is one of those states that reported spills. A StateImpact Oklahoma report on the analysis points out that Oklahoma ranks number six in the volume of wastewater spills in that time period. Wastewater from fracking is briny and laced with toxic chemicals.

In the fracking process, water mixed with chemicals is injected underground to create fissures in rock formations that release fossil fuels, such as natural gas. The wastewater from the process is then injected in underground disposal wells. Scientists believe it is the injection well process that has triggered the hundreds of earthquakes Oklahoma has experienced over the last four years or so.

The main concern with wastewater spills is that they can contaminate water used for drinking or agriculture. Environmentalists have been concerned about such contamination for years. Gasland, a documentary film created by Josh Fox about the relationship between fracking and water contamination, appeared in 2010.

The point is this: Environmentalists have argued for years that wastewater and other types of spills related to oil and gas drilling, along with the earthquake surge experienced here in Oklahoma and other areas, are damaging our eco-system and our homes and our quality of life. If oil and gas companies are left unchecked and unregulated, the damage could grow immense.

It’s an “I-told-you-so” moment, but that’s little consolation for all the years that regulators, financial services companies and the corporate media failed to act to expose the environmental problems surrounding fracking. Now that it’s become obvious, it’s safe to talk about it, but will there be any action?

The oil and gas industry has a powerful political lobby. Many GOP Oklahoma politicians, including Gov. Mary Fallin, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Puitt and all three Oklahoma Corporation Commissioners have received campaign contributions from oil and gas interests. The Corporation Commission regulates the oil and gas in the state.

It’s obvious that large campaign and other donations to politicians influence this country’s political system, and it’s a problem that has only become worse nationwide since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that sanctioned unrestricted political expenditures by companies and organizations.

Although the Citizens United decision isn’t directly related to the environmental impact of fracking here in Oklahoma and elsewhere, it does carry symbolic value because of the time frame. It was just the following year—Nov. 5, 2011 to be exact—that a large 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck near Prague and scientists became concerned it was manmade. Their concerns have now been scientifically verified in study after study. Meanwhile, state leaders, the corporate media, especially The Oklahoman, and the oil and gas industry were slow to react.

The oil and gas industry is important to the state. For example, current lower worldwide oil prices, which mean less production, layoffs and state tax revenue, are going to hurt the economy here. State leaders have talked about diversifying the Oklahoma economy for years, but as the oil patch thrives or plummets so does everything else, or at least it still seems that way. So we’re still explicitly tied to oil and gas drilling in Oklahoma for our economic success, but now we have wastewater spills and earthquakes to worry about. It’s not a good situation, but it’s the new reality.

The larger and long-term answer to all this is easy: We need to increase our efforts to develop renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power.


Newspaper Windmills

Windmill, Jalubí, Czech Republic on Flickr The Commons

No amount of sarcasm about “garden-variety” environmentalists from the editorial board of The Oklahoman will diminish the basic fact that global warming is real and that the planet is heading toward a catastrophe because of it.

The newspaper recently published an editorial that made fun of people concerned about the environment while celebrating the use of natural gas to produce electricity. The snarky piece begins like this:

Pity the plight of the garden-variety environmentalist. He loathes coal because it’s dirty. He’s uncomfortable with nuclear power even though it’s far cleaner than coal. And he can barely tolerate natural gas because, well, it’s a fossil fuel.

Oh, a faux pity party. I want to go. Can I bring a friend? I’m unsure how exactly “garden-variety” is supposed to be read here. Of course, it means commonplace, but I guess it’s also meant to be pejorative in some way. Still, it’s confusing. Note the gender bias as well as in “he loathes” and “he’s uncomfortable.” I guess women don’t care about the environment or the editorial writer needs some training when it comes to gender issues in writing. The overall generalization in the paragraph screams out the writing here is sophomoric and not to be trusted.

Maybe this is too much nitpicking for another goofy editorial in The Oklahoman, but the commentary was published right before it was announced that a new scientific paper shows global warming accelerated by carbon emissions is leading to a catastrophic rise in sea levels. The contrast between the two could not be greater. One mocks people and the science in which they believe. The other is a scientific approach to one of the most important issues of our time.

The paper, which was written by prominent climatologist Dr. James Hansen and several co-authors, argues that a temperature rise of 2 degree Celsius over the next 50 years could lead to sea levels ten-feet higher than they now exist because the added heat will melt ice sheets on the planet.

The paper seems unnecessarily alarmist to some people, according to media reports, but the fact remains that carbon emissions have led to a rise in greenhouse gases. This melts ice sheets on the planet and leads to rising sea levels. If the planet’s inhabitants don’t take any corrective action, the outcome could be devastating.

According to a media report about the paper, Hansen and his coauthors write, "We conclude that continued high [carbon] emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating." Imagine entire coastal communities wiped out.

Meanwhile, The Oklahoman is cheering on the fossil fuel industry. It’s one dying industry cheering on another dying industry.

Developing renewal energy sources, such as solar and wind power, with a limited environmental impact is the primary solution to the planet’s crisis. Obviously, fossil fuels, including natural gas used in power plants, are still vital and will remain so for decades, but in the larger picture they need to be replaced.

The hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boom in Oklahoma and in other areas of the country has also brought with it a host of environmental problems, such as water contamination and earthquakes. Oklahoma, in particular, has been shaken relentlessly over the last few years by earthquakes scientists claim are caused by wastewater injection wells used in the fracking process. The state now leads the contiguous United States in the number of earthquakes of 3.0-magnitude or above.

The 5.6-magnitude 2011 earthquake near Prague caused significant damage, and many property owners are concerned about the impact on their homes and buildings from the almost daily earthquakes the state now experiences. On Monday, 4.4-magnitude and 4.0 magnitude quakes rattled north-central Oklahoma near Cherokee. The Stillwater City Council has even passed new regulations about setbacks and noise levels of fracking operations in its jurisdiction.

While all this is going on, The Oklahoman chooses the snarky road while lauding the energy industry. It should be noted Philip Anschutz, the Colorado billionaire who made his money in the drilling business, currently owns the paper. But the newspaper business is in serious decline. How long before he sells it or the newspaper stops publishing a hard copy, another waste of the planet’s resources? Obviously, the newspaper intentionally alienates many potential “garden-variety” readers.

After outlining the ways in which natural gas is leading to a decline in coal use, the editorial ends with a reference to the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes:

Most of these aren’t on the agenda of our garden-variety environmentalist. Let him tilt at his windmills. We’ll celebrate the gas milestone.

This is what passes for reasoned, compensated written insight in Oklahoma these days. The newspaper’s executives want us to read this and think it’s wise and pertinent commentary and then subscribe to its dying, sometimes offensive and narrow-minded publication. The editorial is simply silly, although we could use more windmills (i.e., wind turbines) these days.

We actually don’t need The Oklahoman in its present form anymore. It’s counter productive for an informed local culture. We DO need to become better stewards of our planet and less worried about lining the pockets of rich oil and gas executives here. That’s not fighting imaginary enemies. It’s just common sense.