The Stillwater City Council unanimously approved new regulations Monday protecting its citizens from the residual effect of oil and gas drilling in its jurisdiction.
Guess what? The oil and gas industry doesn’t like it.
But here’s the dilemma: The hydraulic fracturing or fracking boom in this country has raised both quality of life and environmental issues, ranging from loud operational noise levels to more significant issues, such as a dramatic surge in earthquakes. People in local communities, such as Stillwater, are starting to speak up and take action.
Last year, for example, voters in Denton, TX actually approved an outright ban on fracking in its city limits. When a city in Texas bans oil and gas activity, the issue takes on powerful significance in our culture.
The Stillwater City Council voted Monday to regulate noise levels and establish appropriate distances between homes and buildings from oil and gas operations. In response to the new ordinance, an official with the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association said, “It’s essentially a ban.”
Under a Senate bill passed by the Oklahoma Legislature last session, cities are forbidden to ban oil and gas operations in their jurisdiction, but they can regulate certain elements of the process. Thus, the action in Stillwater Monday could generate a legal showdown of some manner. The Senate bill establishes the Oklahoma Corporation Commission as the main regulating body for the oil and gas industry in the state.
Other municipalities in the state will almost certainly carefully scrutinize the backlash of Stillwater’s action.
Conservative legislators here find themselves in the difficult position of wanting to “drill, baby, drill” to create American energy independence while denying people local control over their communities. Local control is often touted as a bedrock conservative principle. This contradiction, along with the surge of earthquakes here, as I’ve written before, has the potential to become an important political issue in the 2016 general election.
The obvious question is why the oil and gas industry won’t just limit drilling operations to less sparsely populated areas and avoid this type of political friction. The obvious answer is probably that it simply doesn’t matter to the industry, which has a powerful political lobby and undoubtedly has enough money to proceed with legal actions.
In other news, dangerously high levels of radiation have been found in a creek in Pennsylvania, and one university biologist said, “It’s highly suggestive that it may be due to drilling operations, or at least the wastewater.” The oil and gas industry has denied it. The creek leads into a river, which is used for an area water supply. Eventually, the tainted water could even make it into the Pittsburgh water supply, according to a media report.
In Oklahoma, meanwhile, earthquakes that scientists have attributed to wastewater injection wells used in the fracking process continue to rumble the state. A 4.4-magnitude earthquake followed shortly afterwards by a 4.0-magnitude temblor struck near Cherokee in northern Oklahoma Monday.
The growing surge of earthquakes in Oklahoma has become a major crisis. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, according to media reports, just recently expanded the number of injection wells by more than 200 that face new restrictions.
But is it enough? Many people concerned about their homes and property don’t think so. It’s time to speak up. The Stillwater City Council has fortunately helped to accelerate the debate.