(Fracking has put all of us Oklahomans in a lose-lose situation. Do we hope the state finally bans fracking, which is the only sensible response to the earthquake crisis but would lower state tax revenues even more? Or do we hope fossil fuel prices surge and the oil and gas companies frack even more and produce even more earthquakes?—Kurt Hochenauer)
It’s worth noting that Oklahoma’s current earthquake crisis and its budget shortfall and revenue problems are linked symbiotically to a historical caricature that romanticizes the oil and gas industry and overstates its mythical importance to the quality of life here.
The wildcatters turned frackers get hero treatment here from the corporate media, especially The Oklahoman, while most of us face the shaking and rattling and damage of constant earthquakes, along with cuts to state services and our schools. Oklahoma is a world morality lesson, but the state leaders who could do something about it haven’t learned a thing. Drill, baby, drill is a GOP slogan that didn’t win an election, not a studied policy by grown-ups.
— Tulsa World (@tulsaworld) January 8, 2016
The extraction of fossil fuels here has always had its romantic elements: Wildcatters taking chances on drilling in certain areas, instant millions for mineral rights owners, the black spray from the new oil gusher, the boom and bust stories as millions of dollars are easily earned and easily lost, and on and on. It’s a certain caricature of Oklahoma and its neighbor to the south, Texas, but it’s more ambiguous and nuanced than that, and the reality versus the appearance is glaring to anyone not lost in the media hype, the energy industry’s massive public relations campaigns and old reruns of Dallas.
Here’s the present connection between earthquakes and revenue problems in Oklahoma, but, keep in mind, there’s always been connections. The current earthquake surge here scientists have concluded has been caused by a process used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is putting millions of Oklahomans and their property at risk. Meanwhile, the state granted steep tax breaks in 2014 from 7 percent to 2 percent to oil and gas companies for fracked fossil fuel gross production for the initial three years on new wells.
So tax breaks for oil and gas companies responsible for damaging earthquakes are at least partially responsible for $47 million in upcoming cuts to education.
It has put all of us in a lose-lose situation. Do we hope the state finally bans fracking, which is the only sensible response to the earthquake crisis but would lower state tax revenues even more? Or do we hope fossil fuel prices surge and the oil and gas companies frack even more and produce even more earthquakes?
What a mind-boggling conundrum, but, really, tradeoffs like this with the oil and gas industry, minus the earthquakes, of course, have aways been Oklahoma’s major economic weakness.
The constant boom and bust cycle here—remember the early 1980s here and don’t forget the oil bust in the Great Depression in the late 1920s and 1930s—has always held Oklahoma hostage to the romantic image of wildcatters making it big as the black gold flows. But then the bust, which is always predictable, leaves us crying in the wilderness of our own making.
Obviously, the production of fossil fuels has contributed to major developments in transportation in the last three centuries, but its essence and underlying methods have always been resistant and downright defiant to normal government regulation and common business sense. This, I would argue, has created the romantic image of the wily wildcatter risking it ALL for millions. But some of those millions would produce tax revenue, and if the specific drilling bet goes bad, and it has before just like now, then everyone suffers, not just the swashbuckling oil baron, who has no doubt put back a few dollars just in cases like these. This is the Oklahoma story.
There’s been talk for decades about diversifying the Oklahoma economy, but it’s only talk. I don’t know. Maybe it’s impossible to diversify the economy here. Maybe businesses don’t want to relocate here or people don’t want to live here because of the extreme weather conditions and tornado disasters and the close mindedness and the trickle-down effect of poor leadership. Leading the world in earthquakes—there were more than 900 quakes of 3.0 or higher magnitude in 2015—won’t help either.
In the current fracking process, water laced with toxic chemicals is used to create fissures in deep underground rock formations that then release fossil fuels, such as natural gas and oil. The wastewater is then injected in disposal wells. Scientists have concluded it’s the wastewater disposal well process that is triggering previously dormant fault lines and making the earth move here.
I go back to our present lose-lose situation. Keep fracking and earthquake disaster looms. Stop fracking—eliminating disposal wells here would end or drastically reduce fracking—and state revenues and overall economic development plummet even more. The state faces an approximate $1 billion shortfall next fiscal year. The oil and gas industry is shedding jobs.
It’s a bad place to be, and it’s no consolation that we’ve been here before.