From My Window - The High Price of Gasoline - In Rocking OklahomaIssue Date: September 14, 2016
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
Everyone would like cheap energy " lower heating and cooling costs for our homes, lower operating costs for manufacturing, and less expensive gasoline are all very popular for understandable reasons. So the calls for increasing domestic energy production are widespread, and lead to efforts to expand offshore drilling, oil and gas exploration in our national parks and land, and willingness to give tax breaks to the fossil fuel energy businesses. Sarah Palin, one of my least favorite politicians of all time, famously chants: "drill, baby, drill!"
But if you live with the consequences, close up and personal, of the fossil fuel energy industry, you may begin to feel differently. And in Oklahoma we felt it way too close up and personally when our state was rocked on Saturday, Sept. 3rd with an earthquake which is currently assessed at a magnitude of 5.6, with a study underway to see if it was even more severe than that.
There is good agreement here, in the most pro-oil state imaginable, that the cause of the drastic increase in frequency and severity of Oklahoma earthquakes in the last few years is the practice of injecting the waste from fracking operations into the ground of Oklahoma. And we not only inject billions of barrels of Oklahoma's waste, we also take waste generated in other people's states and inject it into our own land. The consequence has become more and more apparent. Those who say fracking is safe are possibly "sort of" staying on the right side of the truth by just referring to the part of fracking that takes oil out of the land, NOT what happens when the toxic waste of fracking must be disposed of. And the disposal method of choice, because it is relatively cheap, is putting it back into our own land.
The waste is composed of salt water, sand, and chemicals. We don't know what chemicals, since the oil industry says the chemicals used are "proprietary." But I bet if we had the list of chemicals present in fracking waste, we'd have a whole separate issue to discuss. I am not a conspiracy theorist, I am simply stating facts. Forcing it back underground in places other than where it originated under high pressure causes earthquakes. If the waste was not toxic, I am sure they would prove that to those of us who are concerned, because it might open up other options for disposal.
As it is, we have businesses and homes with damage, understandably frightened people, and the potential for plummeting property values. No one can tell when the next quake will occur, if it will be worse, or if it will kill people. I find it sobering to hear that our pro-energy governor had ordered state bridges inspected after the quake to ensure they were safe for traffic.
The state's response the big quake weekend of shutting down some of the injection wells strikes me as "too little, too late," since the earthquakes may continue for some time from what's already been done, and may even get worse before they stabilize. And I suspect in the meantime, the regulators will quietly, slowly and gradually allow injection wells to be put back into service.
Kansas, a state that a few years ago had the same earthquake problem as we do, chose to shut down injection wells. Oklahoma, at the same time, decided injecting the waste deeper into the earth would minimize risk. The number of earthquakes has gone down in Kansas. Oklahoma's rate of quakes is skyrocketing. Our state, it appears, gambled wrong.
I was incredulous at the recommendation in the newspaper from a government regulator that state residents buy earthquake insurance. It appears we need the insurance, but I think the oil industry should pay for the insurance, or if state regulators insist on continuing to allow injection wells, especially those handling out of state wastes, the state should pay for home and business owner's insurance.
This is a good lesson on two principles: over-reliance on any one economic industry is totally unhealthy. It leads to lax regulatory oversight, unnatural and unhealthy political influence and leads people to feel we have only two choices: support the fossil fuels industry or face catastrophic unemployment, in the short term. That describes Oklahoma pretty well right now.
The second is that we must, as a country, focus on alternative energy research. The fossil fuel industry is contaminating our land, our air, and our water. I believe it is driving global climate change. (I know some of you don't believe that. To me this is sort of like the question of faith. You may not believe in God, but remember, once you die, it is too late to realize you were wrong.) Besides all that we will run out of fossil fuel eventually. It's just a question of how much pollution, climate change, and earthquake damage will occur before it happens.
Our best and brightest minds should be encouraged to direct their attention to alternative energy research. That's where the tax breaks should occur, not in the fossil fuels industry. In the meantime, energy efficiency and conservation is important, and is something we can all help with in a small way. And I encourage you to suspend your disbelief in the scientists trying to get our attention. Before too long, it may really be too late.
If you choose not to believe me, please send your name and address and I'll put you on a list of someone willing to take fracking waste. Because I, for one, am weary of the consequence of being the domestic oil industry's waste disposal state.
Recent stories, opinions and photos