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An oil pump jack in Oklahoma. (Photo: jbpribanic/public herald/cc/flickr)

An oil pump jack in Oklahoma. (Photo: jbpribanic/public herald/cc/flickr)

In Step with Texas, Oklahoma Poised to Outlaw Local Drilling Bans

In the face of public outcry and mounting evidence linking fracking to earthquake activity, state lawmakers advance bill

Lauren McCauley

Despite mounting scientific evidence that fracking is increasing seismic activity in the state, Oklahoma legislators are poised to pass legislation preventing municipalities from passing local bans on drilling operations.

Senate Bill 468 would overturn an 80-year-old statute and explicitly prohibits local regulation of certain oil and gas activities—even if such regulation is approved by Oklahoma voters.

Following the lead of Texas lawmakers, who on Monday passed a law forbidding towns or cities from enacting local restrictions on any gas or oil drilling operations, both the Oklahoma House and Senate passed SB 468 with strong majority support. The bill now awaits changes in the Senate before advancing.

Outside of a few specific areas including noise and traffic regulation, SB 468 says that municipalities "may not otherwise regulate, prohibit, or ban any oil and gas operations, including oil and gas exploration, drilling, fracture stimulation, completion, production, maintenance, plugging and abandonment, produced water disposal, or secondary recovery operations. Such operations are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction and regulation of the Corporation Commission."

"The legislature has basically sent a message which is: we're going to continue enabling the industry," Ed Shadid, a city councilman in Oklahoma City, told Reuters.

At the same time, a growing body of evidence linking an increase in earthquakes in the state to fracking operations is driving public outcry in Oklahoma.

A coalition of local environmental and public health groups on Monday delivered 1,500 signatures to Republican Gov. Mary Fallin calling for a "moratorium on the use of high-volume, high pressure disposals wells in 16 counties that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, has identified as 'areas of interest' because of earthquake activity," AP reports.

"Oklahoma is now the earthquake capital of America. How did this happen?" said Barbara Van Hanken, co-founder of Clean Energy Future Oklahoma and chair of the Oklahoma Sierra Club.

Last month, scientists at the Oklahoma Geological Survey issued a statement (pdf) saying it is "very likely that the majority of recent earthquakes, particularly those in central and north-central Oklahoma are triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells."

Scientists with the OGS estimate that the state had 585 earthquakes of magnitude-3 or greater in 2014 alone, and is on track to have more than 800 this year, compared with an annual average of one to three quakes prior to 2009.

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