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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Tales from the old-timer

Perspective from Oklahoma

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

daughter of the Old-Timer


I try not to wade into political controversies but offer a few reflections from my home state of Oklahoma. Oklahoma has rich oil and gas resources, and many refineries and other oil-related industry. These provide high employment, good paying jobs and a healthy economy. I bet you wonder, what’s not to like about that?

Indeed, it’s hard to disagree with a slogan like Reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But I’ll offer you a perspective to help you understand why I think the slogan should be reduce our dependence on oil altogether.

Everyone knows my state because of our high-profile severe weather. But did you know that so far in 2014, Oklahoma has had more earthquakes than California? Our earthquake measuring system has not been changed, but the number of earthquakes has skyrocketed. In 2014 so far, Oklahoma has had 190 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or more, compared with 71 for California. Yup, you read that right. We have more earthquakes than California, another dubious claim to fame. Fortunately most of the earthquakes have not caused damage, but will this continue? Will it get worse?

And WHY are we seeing more earthquakes? Well, in this same period of increased earthquakes, due to more oil and gas production here, there has been a 24% increase in the amount of wastewater injection volume. Wastewater injection wells are wells where the contaminated waste byproduct of pumping oil, which is composed of chemicals and salt water, is forced back far underground under high pressure as a way of disposing of it.

This is a pro-energy state, but even energy industry representatives are beginning to talk about studying a possible link between the injection wells and the earthquakes. Scientists are way beyond speculation, and geologists flatly connect the two events. Fact is there are really no low-impact ways to get rid of this waste, but the method of choice, because it is lowest cost, is having an impact on all of us who live in Oklahma. And there is mounting evidence that this practice could also cause groundwater contamination. Just ask the people in Pennsylvania.

The air quality in Tulsa has drawn EPA scrutiny many times for consistently exceeding emissions standards. There are lots of politicians railing about the EPA here, but there are also lots and lots of respiratory disease. Is it really an EPA problem that they want us to talk about the fact our air is being polluted? Drive past a refinery on a windy day - it will influence your thinking about air contamination.

Our avidly pro-energy industry senator has written a popular (here) book totally debunking global warming. I find it interesting that so many people are willing to accept the opinion of a politician and ignore global scientists. Let’s say a Wisconsin senator wanted to protect the jobs the cheesemaking industry creates in Wisconsin. If he wrote a book, stating that eating large amounts of cheese does not create the risk of clogged arteries and sodium-induced high blood pressure, would we believe him, and ignore the advice of a doctor to limit how much cheese we eat?

There are no easy answers to this problem. But I think for the well-being of our children and grandchildren, it behooves us to pursue alternative energy strategies with the best young minds we have in this country. And in the meantime, try hard to REDUCE our energy consumption. Our safety and our environment depend on it. And it really should not be a political issue that divides us. It’s a threat that should unite us.


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