The Oklahoman

Seismic Stalemate

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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

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(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.

Complicit Local Media Fails On Earthquake Coverage

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The media coverage of the 4.3-magnitude earthquake that shook central Oklahoma Tuesday was complacent and routine.

That’s probably just what the oil and gas industry wants.

A glance at online reports about the quakes from The Oklahoman, News 9, KOCO/Channel 5 and NewsChannel 4 shows they didn’t even mention how scientists claim the dramatic surge in earthquakes here are caused by the oil and gas drilling process known a hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

The rhetorical structure of how the local media now covers stronger earthquakes has become a pattern: Note the magnitude of the earthquake, quote the impressions of people who felt it and then offer up some video of stuff shaking on the walls, ceilings and shelves.

When a larger, frightening earthquake strikes these days we end up reading quotes like this: “My dad said maybe the good lord was trying to tell someone something, and I said if he was talking to me, I sure got the message.” Here’s another one: “The hummingbird feeder on the front porch was moving and a swing seat on the porch was rattling pretty good.” Colorful, right?

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with these standard person-on-the-street statements, of course, but they are presented with a gaping lack of context.

I want to point this out in harsh terms. The local corporate media coverage of our state’s earthquake problem and the problems inherent in fracking is biased and unethical. If and when a major earthquake strikes here causing large-scale damage and bodily harm, the corporate media will be as much to blame as state leaders who have failed to act with urgency to address the state’s obvious earthquake emergency.

Any media outlet reporting on an earthquake here that’s 3.0-magnitude or above should at the very least mention the growing scientific evidence that it was probably caused by disposal wells used in the fracking process. The failure to do so is a cover-up for the oil and gas industry.

So let me reiterate. Fracking is a drilling process in which water laced with chemicals is injected underground into rock formations, releasing oil and gas from crevices or veins. The wastewater is then injected by high pressure into what are called disposal or injection wells. The disposal well process is what scientists believe is causing the hundreds of earthquakes the state has experienced in the last few years.

The numbers are staggering. Here’s just one: Reuters recently reported that there have been 292 earthquakes of a 3.0-magnitude or higher so far this year in Oklahoma, but that was at least a week ago. The number is surely close to 300 or more by now.

There have been some recent developments about growing protests against fracking. I wrote about those developments here.

The corporate media here is undoubtedly dependent on the oil and gas industry for advertising dollars. The oil and gas industry political lobby is large and well funded here and elsewhere and that plays into the media’s complicity as well.

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