The Oklahoman

Whither Logic? Whither Fairness?

Image of wind turbines

The Oklahoman has long supported just about anything the oil and gas industry does in the state and elsewhere, and two of its recent commentaries show just how much its cloying, crude genuflection has crossed sensible boundaries.

Last Tuesday, the newspaper’s NewsOK.com site published an editorial arguing, “Birds are being killed by the thousands at solar and wind power projects.” Thus, the argument goes, producing wind and solar power is just as, if not more, environmentally destructive as oil and gas drilling, something the Environmental Protection Agency and President Barack Obama just don’t get.

The editorial, titled “On energy front, one standard needed for wildlife protection,” essentially wants its readers to feel sorry for big energy companies, mentioning, “The Obama administration . . . has delayed approval of a Canada-U.S. pipeline project for years.” Meanwhile, listen up, these terrible wind farms and solar plants are killing birds.

Here are a couple of responses to this nonsense:

First, let’s be clear that wind and solar power are renewable energy sources while oil and gas are finite even despite the recent fracking boom. It only stands to reason that the development of renewable sources should be granted some leeway and time to determine its initial impact on the environment. Yes, wind turbines and solar plants can and do kill birds, but are there ways to remedy this? The answer is worthy of contemplation and study, and I’m sure that’s happening. The answer absolutely IS NOT eliminating oil and gas drilling regulations. The Oklahoman editorial page is constantly making what I call “baby-fit arguments.” This baby argument—imagine a small child throwing a fit in the middle of the living room—goes like this: Wind and solar power gets to kill little birdies. Why can’t oil and gas wells kill birdies, too. Want to kill birdies. Want to kill birdies. Want to kill birdies.” It’s ridiculous. The Oklahoman editorial page needs a timeout.

Second, speaking of killing birds, some scientists estimate that about 800,000 birds were killed by the 2010 BP-operated oil rig explosion and resulting spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion also killed eleven people and had a devastating impact on the Louisiana economy. The Oklahoman doesn’t mention the BP disaster in its editorial.

Another editorial published Sunday—“Whither the U.S. energy boom? Answer may lie in the halls of government”—extoled the fracking boom in Oklahoma, Texas and North Dakota, noting, “The last thing Oklahoma’s economy needs is depressed energy prices.” The editorial also whines “. . . but the beat will go on to demonize the one thing that’s increasing domestic supply and defusing the potential of international crises to create panic in the marketplace.” Specifically, it mentions a proposal to ban fracking in the Denton, Texas city limits while vaguely referencing a Colorado anti-fracking initiative.

So the newspaper’s argument is this: Not only do we basically need higher gasoline prices and high natural gas prices to support the oil and gas industry here, but those people who are against fracking are ruining everything, which is bad, bad, bad for the world. Meanwhile, scientists argue that wastewater disposal wells used in the fracking process are to blame for the earthquake emergency the state now faces, and environmentalists continue to claim fracking leads to water contamination. There is no mention of these important factors in the editorial or anything about the relationship between global warming and carbon. It’s just a blanket endorsement of fracking and how important it is to geopolitics, which is immensely debatable.

The Oklahoman, operated for decades by the ultra-conservative Gaylord family, is now owned by Philip Anschutz, the Colorado billionaire who made his money in the energy business. So it’s no wonder the newspaper is a radical defender of the oil and gas industry. The newspaper simply can’t be trusted to say anything remotely fair about the oil and gas industry on its editorial page.

I’ve said this for years: We live in the Fossil Fuel Age, which will end and become a blip in history if it doesn’t lead to the destruction of the planet. Once the last drop of oil is squeezed from the earth here in Oklahoma, the big energy companies and the ultra-rich millionaires and billionaires who operated them will be gone.

No one reading this will probably be alive when the Fossil Fuel Age ends, but it's only going to become increasingly obvious in the years to come that renewable energy sources remain the answer to our survival.

Seismic Stalemate

Image of oil gusher

Recent stories on NewsOK.com dissecting the dramatic surge in earthquakes here and its possible connection to oil and gas drilling activities are probably the most thorough local look at the issue so far.

The stories were primarily written by Adam Wilmoth, the energy editor of The Oklahoman, which operates the NewsOK.com site. In his main report, Wilmoth presents the analysis of experts from academia and the oil and gas industry and outlines the history of earthquakes here. The accompanying graphics are helpful as well.

Wilmoth puts the earthquake surge in this perspective:

The number of earthquakes measuring magnitude 3.0 or greater has jumped from an average of less than five a year to about 40 a year for the past five years and more than 200 so far in 2014, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Here’s the anchor article. It’s worth reading if you’ve ever experienced an earthquake here and then were left wondering if the next one would literally bring the house down.

I do believe, however, the main story relies too heavily on the claims of people who work in the oil and gas industry. Certainly, executives at oil and gas companies here have a vested financial interest in arguing the recent surge in seismic activity is a natural phenomenon. The story never really directly points out that conflict of interest in blunt enough terms for me.

Oklahoma’s surge in earthquakes, according to scientists outside of the oil and gas industry, is at least partially due to water disposal wells used in the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process. In the fracking process, wastewater is eventually injected by high pressure into underground rock formations. Scientists believe it’s that process that triggers earthquakes along the state’s fault lines. Although disposal wells have long been used in the oil and gas industry, they have grown in number because of the recent boom in fracking in the state. There are currently 12,000 injection wells in Oklahoma, according to one of the recent NewsOK.com articles.

I also believe an editorial in The Oklahoman/NewsOK.com, which followed Wilmoth’s reports, completely distorted the issue. The editorial makes the big italicized point, “We have shaken this way before. The point seems to be this: Don’t blame the oil and gas industry for earthquakes in Oklahoma. This went on in the 1950s, too.

Yet one local scientist, Austin Holland, who works for the Oklahoma Geological Survey clearly claims in an earlier article on NewsOK.com:

There are number of times in the historic past before we had seismic monitoring that we had seismicity clusters, but none of these upticks in seismic activity even come close to comparing to what we see today.

I respect the work they are doing, but certainly feel that it is not the whole story.

“They” are people like Glen Brown, who works as a vice president for geology at local energy company Continental Resources. Brown’s claim is that the recent surge in earthquakes here was similar to a surge in the 1950s, which included a 5.5-magnitude quake in El Reno.

The main conundrum is that available scientific techniques might not be able to ever conclusively show beyond a shadow of a doubt that disposal wells are responsible for the earthquake surge. This is compounded by the fact that the oil and gas industry has no compelling reason to accept any liability for the increase in seismic activity.

It’s a seismic stalemate that could lead to property damage and even human casualties if a large earthquake hits the state.

Teenage Pregnancy: Solutions No One Will Talk About In Oklahoma

Image of church and Oklahoma state Capitol

(Here are the obvious solutions to the teenage pregnancy problem in Oklahoma: (1) Establish more comprehensive and required sexual education courses in public schools starting in early grades that continue through high school. (2) Offer students at an appropriate age free contraception, including Plan B and condoms. (3) Ensure women here retain the right to have an abortion. (4) Stop electing right-wing politicians who oppose these sensible ideas.)

It should come at no surprise that Oklahoma continues to have one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the nation.

But a story in The Oklahoman about the issue omits this crucial factor: It’s the right-wing religious folks here who oppose appropriate and extensive sexual education that goes beyond abstinence-only dogma. Until public schools can offer more required courses that directly and explicitly address sex and its ramifications, and even offer birth control to students at an appropriate age, Oklahoma will continue to struggle with this problem, which obviously costs taxpayers.

Let’s be real. Oklahomans elect numerous right-wing Christian politicians who profess themselves to be deeply religious. These politicians, using their religious beliefs, prevent the state from realistically addressing the state’s numerous social problems, such as the state's high teenage pregnancy rate.

The Oklahoman, of course, endorses many of these right-wing politicians or supports their overall ideology on its editorial page.

The story in The Oklahoman was written by Jaclyn Cosgrove, described somewhat redundantly as a “Medical and Health Reporter” on NewsOK.com. She does a thorough job presenting the statistical information. Oklahoma had the second highest teenage pregnancy rate in the nation in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It had the highest rate among women 18 and 19 years old. The story does, indeed, quote a couple of experts that argue for more sexual education. This is a long, tragic story in the state.

Here’s what’s so bad about teenage pregnancy, according to the site StayTeen.org:

More than half of all mothers on welfare had their first child as a teenager. In fact, two-thirds of families begun by a young, unmarried mother are poor.

Children who live apart from their fathers are 5 times more likely to be poor than children with both parents at home.

The daughters of young teen mothers are 3 times more likely to become teen mothers themselves.

The sons of teen mothers are twice as likely to end up in prison.

Cosgrove’s story doesn’t really delve into these issues, though it does quote the CDC report about how daughters of teenage mothers are more likely to become pregnant as teenagers themselves. The accompanying video for the story does a good job presenting basic facts.

But by omitting the crucial political and religious reasons for the teenage pregnancy problem in the state, the story is basically unhelpful and perhaps even untruthful on one level. We have a problem in this state with teenage pregnancy. There’s a reason why. It’s because the right-wing religious folks and the politicians they elect oppose comprehensive sexual education in our schools. The story doesn’t really address it. To be fair to Cosgrove, her editors undoubtedly wouldn’t allow such blunt realism.

The Oklahoman has always been a major part of the problem when it comes to the state’s numerous social problems, which along with a high teenage pregnancy rate include overall poor medical outcomes and access. On the one hand, it reports the dismal information in a grave, hectoring style. On the other hand, its editorial page supports politicians and ideology that ensure the state remains backwards.

Here’s some information from the news organization Oklahoma Watch that should simply astound and shock everyone:

Among the state’s five largest districts, the largest, Oklahoma City Public Schools, provides no sex-education classes to students at any grade level, although the district used to offer a comprehensive program two decades ago.

Here are the obvious solutions to the teenage pregnancy problem here: (1) Establish more comprehensive and required sexual education courses in public schools starting in early grades that continue through high school. (2) Offer students at an appropriate age free contraception, including Plan B and condoms. (3) Ensure women here retain the right to have an abortion. (4) Stop electing politicians who oppose these sensible ideas.

Syndicate content