The environmental impact of the hydraulic fracturing process, known as oil and gas fracking, has long been a contentious political conflict around the world.
Now that conflict is starting to manifest itself here in Oklahoma in the form of legal action, community protest and energy-industry supported legislation aimed at shutting down any dissent from those concerned about their own personal safety and their quality of life. The fight is on in full force here and across the country.
Here are three local recent developments to consider:
(1) The Oklahoma Supreme Court, according to media reports, will consider if they should decide if oil companies can be held responsible for the 5.6-magnitude earthquake that struck Prague in 2011, causing damage. The lawsuit, brought by Prague resident Sandra Ladra, claims she suffered serious injuries in the earthquake. After the earthquake, scientists claimed it was caused by the injection well process used in the fracking process. In that process, wastewater used in fracking is injected by high pressure into rock formations into what are called wastewater disposal wells. This process, according to scientists, causes enough instability along existing fault lines to trigger earthquakes.
(2) Hundreds of people turned out at a December meeting to protest a proposal for new hydraulic fracturing near Lake Hefner, which is one of Oklahoma City’s main water supplies. For years, environmentalists have claimed that fracking can lead to water contamination. After the meeting, which included chanting protestors carrying signs, the company requesting city permission to frack around and actually under the lake withdrew its request.
(3) At least eight bills have been introduced in the Oklahoma Legislature in the upcoming legislative session by oil and gas industry supporters that will prohibit that state’s local authorities to ban oil and gas drilling in city limits. This comes as places such as Denton, Texas, the state of New York and even the entire country of Scotland have issued different forms of bans on fracking.
In the fracking process, water laced with chemicals is injected into the ground to create fissures in rock formations that release oil and gas. The wastewater from the process is then often injected into the ground again by high pressure, where it’s “stored” in some form. Oil and gas companies, of course, claim the process is safe and environmentally sound. But critics of fracking and the wastewater disposal well process argue that’s simply untrue, claiming it leads to polluted water and now a tremendous surge in earthquakes here and elsewhere.
Oklahoma, which now leads the contiguous United States in the number of earthquakes of 3.0-magnitude or higher, has experienced a fracking boom recently, which has helped create a world oil glut that has driven down prices and now threatens to do much damage to the state’s economy. Meanwhile, the state’s conservative legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin have granted steep tax cuts to oil and gas companies to continue fracking.
Here are my corresponding views on these three issues:
(1) Those companies operating wastewater injection wells should be held financially responsible for the damage caused by earthquakes if scientists determine the overall process causes earthquakes. Rejecting science is a sign of willful neglect. These companies wouldn’t reject the basic scientific engineering that creates the protocols of fracking or the injection well process.
(2) New fracking should never be allowed near an area’s main water supply. There’s too much evidence that fracking can pollute water supplies. There have been films about it and lawsuits over it. The evidences grows that fracking is harmful to our planet and especially to our drinking water.
(3) People in Oklahoma and elsewhere on the local level have the right to vote to protect their water and ensure their safety. There are plenty of places outside urban areas to frack for oil and gas. Given the growing environmental evidence, oil and gas companies should keep their fracking operations as far away as possible from densely populated areas.
As I mentioned, all this comes as world oil prices continue to drop. The price of oil per barrel has dropped from more than $100 last summer to below $50 now. This is an example of our country’s lack of a sensible energy policy. The obvious overall answer is to continue to develop renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and hydro power, but with Republican conservatives in POWER both in Washington and Oklahoma, the planet’s environmental future, and especially here in Oklahoma, seems tragically bleak. There’s no other way to put it.