The new law prohibiting cities from banning fracking within their jurisdictions violates the conservative ideology of promoting local government control and benefits oil and gas companies over the interests of homeowners and other residents.
Gov. Mary Fallin signed Senate Bill 809 into law Friday. It’s a bill that ensures oil and gas companies can drill within the limits of a municipality even if the people who live in that municipality don’t want them to do so. It other words, it takes away the right of individual citizens to protect their quality of life and personal welfare.
The bill came after the city of Denton, Texas voted to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in their city last year and as some people in Stillwater apparently contemplated a ban there. It was a preemptive strike by a Republican-dominated state legislature and government, but it hardly reflects the conservative mantra of individual determination.
In a news release, Fallin said the bill reaffirms “the Corporation Commission as the sole regulator of Oklahoma’s oil and natural gas industry,” noting the bill “prohibits municipalities from issuing moratoriums or bans on drilling while preserving their ability to adopt reasonable ordinances, rules and regulations concerning traffic issues, noise, fencing requirements and placing of drilling rigs.”
The basic official argument is that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission provides a needed consistency when it comes to drilling regulations that individual cities can’t provide. In her release, Fallin even mentioned how the commission was looking into the link between wastewater injection wells used in the fracking process and the dramatic surge in seismic activity here.
But that won’t mean much to homeowners suffering through the noise and traffic of a nearby fracking rig.
It might well be true that smaller cities lack a certain expertise in the engineering underlying the fracking process and its impact on the surrounding environment, but that simply doesn’t apply to a university city, such as Stillwater, or, say, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Norman. City officials and staff in those places either possess the knowledge or know where to seek the knowledge about fracking.
Centralizing regulations is problematic as well. An oil and gas company, for example, recently submitted a plan to frack near Lake Hefner, one of Oklahoma City’s main water supplies. The company withdrew the proposal because of a public outcry. This new law would seemingly make it more difficult to stop such projects under this philosophy of centralization.
Conservatives often cite “local control” and “individual rights” as values they support and bemoan what they see as a centralized, overreaching federal government. This bill contradicts those positions. If people in a city want to retain a certain quality of life and ban fracking near their homes, then let them do so. There remain plenty of places to frack for gas in this country.
As the country is discovering, so-called energy independence comes at a high cost, which includes earthquakes here and, as some environmentalists have long argued, water pollution. While the energy industry is vital to the state’s economy, there’s a breaking point in which its negative environmental impact outweighs the benefits. I think people are waking up to this basic point, especially in places like Texas and Oklahoma, which have experienced a fracking boom in recent years.
In the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking process, water laced with chemicals is injected by high pressure into underground rock formations that create fissures releasing gas and oil. The wastewater from that process is then injected again by high pressure into underground storage wells. Scientists now believe that it’s the wastewater injection well process that is triggering the surge in earthquakes here. Oklahoma led the lower 48 states in 2014 in the number of earthquakes registering 3.0 magnitude or higher.
The fracking boom here and elsewhere, often draped in the patriotic and geo-political language of “energy independence,” as I’ve mentioned, and “freedom” from the Middle East, is used by oil and gas companies to push against regulations. But the real cost of this country’s fracking boom is now becoming clear, and it’s happening, of course, on the local level where the environmental evidence mounts.