The main takeaway from the Edmond earthquake forum yesterday at the University of Central Oklahoma is that local residents are extremely angry with state leaders for not doing enough to put pressure on the oil and gas industry to stop all the shaking and property damage.
The other more subtle but important issue that emerged at the forum is that people are anxious and scared that a major earthquake is going to do more than just damage a home’s foundation or blow out some windows or collapse a chimney. They’re worried their kids or grandkids might die when the big quake hits because they believe leaders, such as Gov. Mary Fallin and members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, simply won’t take action because they care more about the profits of the oil and gas industry than people’s safety.
I attended the forum yesterday at the university where I’ve worked for more than two decades as a professor. It was sponsored by local state Rep. Lewis Moore, a Republican. The forum was held to allow local residents in Edmond and throughout the state to discuss their concerns about all the recent earthquakes—some in the 4.0-magnitude range and above—that are shaking it up here. It’s an emergency. It’s a crisis. People are tremendously concerned and worried about their personal safety and the welfare and value of their property.
— Greenpeace (@Greenpeace) January 15, 2016
I estimate three hundred or more people attended the meeting, which was scheduled and announced only a couple of days or so before it happened. If people would have known earlier about the meeting, and if it would have been held after normal working-day hours—it started at 4:30 p.m.—there’s no doubt in my mind the crowd would have been triple the size or even more.
Was Moore, a stalwart conservative who voted last year to prohibit cities from banning fracking in their jurisdictions and probably won’t do much of anything overall to stop the earthquakes, trying to have it both ways? Probably. I do give him credit, however. He knew he was going to face the heat, and he did so. The meeting itself was disorganized and incoherent at times, but it was clear Moore was letting people vent. Moore himself, given his remarks at the forum, seems to have pipe dreams about recycling the massive amount of toxic wastewater created by fracking. But that’s just another Republican dodge in the GOP’s relentless support of dirty energy and denying global warming, but, hey, people in Edmond elected him.
This is what Edmondites get. Don’t blame Moore. Don’t blame Fallin. A majority of Edmond voters gave them the power to do nothing but waste time on ideological nonsense like placing a Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol or attacking Planned Parenthood over fraudulent videos or trying to stop teachers from talking about the theory of evolution in classrooms.
A 4.3-magnitude earthquake shaking people out of bed at 5:30 a.m. isn’t nonsense. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough state leaders right now that can make appropriate adult distinctions about what’s important or not. Literally, the earthquakes are shaking up the reality.
Let me repeat this point in a different and more-to-the-point manner: The earthquakes will continue in Edmond until people there elect different people to state office. That’s the truthful statement that will go unspoken in the corporate media here, especially in The Oklahoman.
So here’s the background information I’ve written dozens upon dozens of times now. Oklahoma is experiencing an earthquake swarm. The state has gone from experiencing just two or three minor and mostly unfelt earthquakes just a few years ago to experiencing hundreds of quakes each year that are above 3.0-magnitude. A 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck near Prague in 2011, and things have only gotten worse since then. Recently, two earthquakes above 4.0-magnitude hit Edmond and caused some damage to homes. Meanwhile, north of Edmond, communities such as Medford and Fairview are getting rattled as well with 4.0-magnitude or above earthquakes. Some seismologists contend Oklahoma is the most earthquake-prone place IN THE WORLD right now. The state is getting hit by thousands of earthquakes a year.
All this corresponds to the recent hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boom in the state, which has been part of creating the fossil fuel glut that has driven down prices of oil and gas and wreaked havoc on the Oklahoma economy and the state budget. (Let’s also not forget about the tax breaks for oil and gas companies.) Scientists have concluded that the earthquakes are caused by wastewater injection wells used in the fracking process to extract natural gas and oil.
The oil and gas industry apologists are quick to point out that it’s not fracking itself that’s causing the quakes, but that’s disingenuous. Right now, there’s no financially feasible way to dispose of the toxic water used and generated by fracking, except to inject it underground, which triggers earthquakes along previously dormant fault lines in Oklahoma. There’s the reality.
So let me give you the full permission denied to you by the oil and gas industry to say this: Fracking is causing the earthquakes in Oklahoma.
Take a deep breath. Say it again. Fracking is causing the earthquakes in Oklahoma. We can do something about it. We can ban fracking. Say this now. We can ban fracking. The world will not end if we ban fracking here, but life itself COULD end for many people here if we DON’T ban fracking.
In the fracking process, water laced with toxic chemicals is injected deep underground to create fissures in rock formations that then release fossil fuels, such as natural gas and oil. The wastewater created by this process is immense. The dirty, toxic saltwater is then injected underground again into quake-producing disposal wells here in Oklahoma and other places.
But let me get back to the forum yesterday. Moore’s big points were that there is the potential to recycle or, in his words, “rehab” the fracking wastewater and that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) can be given more power by the legislature to address the wastewater volume amounts in injection wells or to even shut down some wells. Not much new there. But, again, to Moore’s credit, he let people vent and rant. He didn’t directly press the GOP agenda that privileges big business over the concerns of ordinary citizens.
My points are that people shouldn’t have to drink any water or eat any food associated with fracking waste (no doubt we’re doing so already) and that the OCC doesn’t have the power and won’t do much of anything to stop the earthquakes.
What needs to happen is that Gov. Mary Fallin or, more realistically, a federal judge should declare a moratorium at the very least on injection wells or just ban fracking altogether here in Oklahoma, at least for now. Does that sound radical? Well, what is it going to sound like when Edmond houses start collapsing one by one when the big earthquake strikes? Will that sound radical?
The vast majority of people who spoke at the forum yesterday wanted some type of moratorium or limitation on injection wells. One person argued this issue could turn Oklahoma from a red to a blue state. People talked about their anxieties over the earthquakes. One person talked emotionally about the safety of her grandchildren. Others criticized Moore for his previous vote on the fracking issue. People spoke forcefully and loudly. Some people were extremely angry. Others teared up and expressed their anxieties.
Lawyers also talked yesterday at the forum about class action lawsuits against the oil and gas industry here because of the earthquakes. I have argued for years that it would take such action and some type of federal intervention—through the courts or in other ways—to get anything done here about the earthquakes. I predicted this years ago, but the corporate media won’t allow voices to be heard. The oil and gas industry means money for them.
All three OCC members, Bob Anthony, Dana Murphy and Todd Hiett, Fallin and Attorney General Scott Pruitt have accepted campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. Money influences politicians in a major way. Do we even have to debate that point? It’s unlikely these people will take the appropriate action because of their self interests. Maybe they actually want the federal government to intervene because they know how little they can actually do. Fighting Big Oil in Oklahoma is, for now, a losing proposition for most politicians in Oklahoma.
As I write this, state Rep. Richard Morrissette is holding another forum at the state Capitol on the earthquake issue. It’s going on all day. Go there now. I believe Morrissette, a Democrat, really wants to stop the quakes and he’s not mincing words. He has talked recently about the “what ifs.” What if a huge earthquake hit Stillwater or Edmond and killed college students in dorm rooms or school kids in classrooms? What if? It’s in the definite realm of possibility.
— News 9 (@NEWS9) January 15, 2016