As environmentalists across the country are fighting to put an end to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the government of Oklahoma has declared a statewide cessation of local fracking bans.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed Senate Bill 809 on May 29, granting the state’s Corporation Commission full regulatory jurisdiction over the oil and gas industry. The bill, composed by Republican State Senator Brian Bingman, would allow municipalities local oversight for cases involving “reasonable” noise, traffic, or odor concerns, for example, but gives the Corporation Commission final say over industry activity.
“Corporation Commissioners are elected by the people of Oklahoma to regulate the oil and gas industry,” said Fallin in a public statement. “They are best equipped to make decisions about drilling and its affect[sic] on seismic activity, the environment, and other sensitive issues. We need to let these experts do their jobs.”
Oklahoma’s Corporation Commission, who will maintain authority over fracking in the state, is made up of three Republican members. They are led by Chairman Bob Anthony, member of the National Petroleum Council — a committee that speaks for the oil and gas industry to the U.S. Secretary of Energy.
The seismic activity mentioned by Governor Fallin refers to the “sharp increases in seismicity” since 2009 recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in eight central and eastern states, most prevalently in Oklahoma. The USGS has linked the earthquakes to the ground injection of the wastewater that results from the fracturing process.
Wastewater disposal has also been linked to other complications such as groundwater and drinking water contamination.
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This isn’t the first time that local governments have lost the right to stop gas companies from the controversial method of extracting natural gas from shale. Earlier in May Texas Governor Greg Abbot signed a bill that negated the City of Denton’s local ban on hydraulic fracturing, despite nearly sixty percent of voters approving the fracking prohibition in November. Gas companies resumed the practice in Denton after a seven-month hiatus, sparking protests from local activists.
In February, Ohio’s Supreme Court ruled on a similar decision, granting the state sole authority over zoning and regulation of the oil and gas industry. A dissenting opinion from Justice William M. O’Neill suggested that campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry may have influenced his counterparts’ final decisions.
What do you think — does the oil and gas industry have too much pull on public policy, or are lawmakers truly looking out for our best interests?