Dark Red Oklahoma Angers Big Oil And Gas: Energy Practices Causing State’s Earthquakes (April 22, 2015)

oklahoma earthquake

As the nation commemorates Earth Day 2015 this week with a variety of observances, activities and awareness campaigns, it’s the perfect time to renew calls for bipartisan cooperation to address climate change. And I’m also pleased to report a welcome anomaly among hard-core red states that should set an example for other Republican-led governments to follow.

On Tuesday, writer Michael Wines of The New York Timespublished a piece entitled Oklahoma Recognizes Role of Drilling in Earthquakes. The lead, pardon the pun, was rather seismic:

“Abandoning years of official skepticism, Oklahoma’s government on Tuesday embraced a scientific consensus that earthquakes rocking the state are largely caused by the underground disposal of billions of barrels of wastewater from oil and gas wells.”

Although we should not fall all over ourselves commending overdue common sense, the change is significant for two major reasons.

Oklahoma is a Red State – capital “R,” capital “S.” How Red is it? On January 25 of this year, Randy Krehbiel of the Tulsa Worldwrote, “Republicans will hold 112 of 149 seats in the Legislature that begins a week from Monday, plus every elected statewide office and the entire congressional delegation. And good luck to the Democrat who tries to make the two-party argument.”

With over 75 percent of the state’s lawmakers leaning to the hard right, it is kind of amazing that leadership would adopt a policy position that stands in direct contrast to the national party’s official platform on Natural Resources. Just for fun, here is the section related to Protecting Our Environment verbatim:

“The environment is getting cleaner and healthier. The nation’s air and waterways, as a whole, are much healthier than they were just a few decades ago. Efforts to reduce pollution, encourage recycling, educate the public, and avoid ecological degradation have been a success. To ensure their continued support by the American people, however, we need a dramatic change in the attitude of officials in Washington, a shift from a job-killing punitive mentality to a spirit of cooperation with producers, landowners, and the public. An important factor is full transparency in development of the data and modeling that drive regulations. Legislation to restore the authority of States in environmental protection is essential. We encourage the use of agricultural best management practices among the States to reduce pollution.”

I suppose the GOP forgot to forward this memo to the 97 percent of climate scientists who agree that our planet is not, in fact, “getting cleaner and healthier.” Maybe the total falsehood of the assertion is part of the problem.

In light of the party’s mandate that the federal government illustrate “a spirit of cooperation with producers [Big Energy], landowners [the landed gentry], and the public [afterthought peons],” Oklahoma is committing a real act of partisan treason. With its new position that oil and gas conglomerates are the direct cause of the state’s devastating earthquakes, up to two 3.0 magnitude tremors per day, cue the dissatisfaction of energy interests. After Republican Governor Mary Fallin’s office issued the new guidance this week, Wines writes:

“[The] actions met a mixed response from the oil and gas industry and the Governor’s critics. The Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association disputed the Geological Survey’s conclusions, saying in a statement that further study of the state’s quakes remained necessary.”

Uh huh. However, Democrats are welcoming the new, fact-based approach. Wines observes, “One of the most prominent advocates of stronger action on the earthquake issue, State Representative Cory Williams, a Democrat, said he had been pleasantly surprised by the change in what he called the state’s ‘head in the sand’ approach to the quake problem.

Climate change is one of the issues where it’s always better to act late than never. It remains to be seen if the practices of oil and gas companies can be altered to reverse the ecological damage done in the State of Oklahoma, and party leaders deserve continued rebuke for a failure to impose a moratorium sooner. In fact, they may never get around to imposing it at all. But if words are powerful and can change the constituent conversation (which they can, as it took years of disingenuous proselytizing from Republicans to talk the EPA-creating party of Nixon back into the dark ages), then Oklahoma may have just taken a great leap forward in saving itself.

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