It’s unfortunately notable The Oklahoman in an editorial over the weekend about the legislative session that starts today failed to even mention the state’s manmade earthquake crisis.
The newspaper’s Sunday editorial huffed and puffed about the about how “business as usual is not an option” given the state’s current revenue failure and an expected budget shortfall of $900 million and growing for next fiscal year. It also trotted out its usual conservative mush while admittedly suggesting some decent and obvious established ideas along the way, such as corrections reform.
But nary a word about how Oklahoma has become the most earthquake-prone place in the world over the last few years.
— NRDC (@NRDC) January 23, 2016
The earthquake crisis here is a major problem that state leaders, including Gov. Mary Fallin, have failed to adequately address. Meanwhile, hundreds of earthquakes of 3.0-magnitude shook things up here last year and continue to do so. That doesn’t even count the smaller quakes that might go unfelt but could obviously collectively contribute to property damage over a longer period of time.
Some people might argue that state leaders are trying and that the language “ . . . have failed to adequately address” is hyperbole or biased. But here’s the deal: The quakes keep growing in number since the 5.6-magnitude quake struck near Prague in 2011. It’s now more than four years later since that large quake, and we’ve gone from bad to worse to a major crisis. That’s a failure of government leadership, and it includes Fallin, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) and, yes, the GOP-dominated legislature.
Scientists long ago determined the quakes are caused by injection wells used in the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process. Oklahoma has recently experienced a fracking boom, which has led to a worldwide fossil fuel glut that has ultimately decreased oil and gas tax revenues for the state contributing to its dire fiscal problems. So right now Oklahomans suffer both ways when it comes to fracking. The earthquakes keep coming and the state faces massive budget cuts, including even more cuts to education.
In the fracking process, saltwater laced with toxic chemicals is injected by high pressure underground to create fissures in rock formations that release oil and natural gas. The water is then injected underground again into what are called injection or wastewater disposal wells. Scientists have determined it is the injection process that is triggering earthquakes along long-dormant fault lines.
There have been two recent noteworthy developments concerning the earthquake crisis:
(1) The Enid News and Eagle reported that Oklahoma is an “intake” state for fracking wastewater. The state received more than two million barrels of wastewater from other states in 2015, according to the article. There are people here literally going out of their way to deepen and extend the earthquake crisis, and the state is allowing it to happen.
Here’s a suggestion for a new Chamber of Commerce slogan: Dump your toxic waste in Oklahoma, where the earthquakes come shaking up the plains.
(2) Fallin published an op-ed about the earthquake crisis in The Tulsa World recently that contained this whopper of a sentence: “We are taking action, but there is not an easy solution to halting Oklahoma’s unprecedented rise in seismic activity.” But there actually IS an easy solution that has been implemented in other states with great success. That solution is to shut down injection wells completely. That’s what Oklahoma needs to do, and it needs to happen now before a catastrophic quake strikes here.
Fallin also wants to spend an additional $1.4 million on earthquake research, but that dollar amount is too little too late, and the solution to the problem—shutting down injections wells—is clear. That doesn’t take research. Just do it. The problem is that the oil and gas industry doesn’t like that solution because fracking can’t happen at a profit level right now without injection wells. Fracking in Oklahoma doesn’t happen without the injection wells that create the earthquakes.
— NewsOK (@NewsOK) January 29, 2016
It’s always important to note that Fallin, Pruitt, all three members of the OCC, and, of course, legislators from both parties have received campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry through the years. The Oklahoman, perhaps the most conservative big-city daily newspaper in the country, is owned by Philip Anschutz, a Colorado billionaire who made his money in the drilling business.
So here’s what should be the basic hope for the 2016 Oklahoma Legislature: Lawmakers should not waste taxpayer money or much of their time on any legislation that doesn’t directly or indirectly deal with the state’s budget emergency or the earthquake crisis this session. For example, bills dealing with corrections reform do impact state spending so obviously they should be considered.
Of course, as I’ve written in my last two posts here and here, the conservative ideologues in the legislature are already out in full force proposing bills attacking basic science instruction in schools and demonizing the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.
Meanwhile, the state shakes its way into a new, uncharted abyss of mediocrity as it slashes education funding again and again.
— Tulsa World (@tulsaworld) January 28, 2016