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Oklahoma State Bans Oklahoma Towns From Banning Fracking

An 80-year-old staute allowing local control of drilling was just overturned by state legislators.

Mixing water with hydraulic fracturing fluids to be injected into the ground. Image by Joshua Doubek via Wikimedia Commons

Oklahoma residents have been looking for ways to protect themselves after an alarming and unprecedented number of earthquakes—widely believed to be a direct result of oil and gas drilling operations—have rocked the state over the last year. But now, Reuters reports, state lawmakers are finalizing legislation to actually block towns and cities from enacting their own local bans or regulations on drilling activity.

Spurred by the jobs and economic rewards created by drilling, Oklahoma’s politicians have been happy to aid the energy industry in its attempts to silence critics and cover up the connection between seismic activity and the disposal of byproducts from natural gas production. But the mind-blowing 600 percent increase in tremors is becoming more and more difficult to plausibly write off as a natural occurrence.

Recently, municipalities have been trying to take matters into their own hands, looking to an existing state statute from 1935 that allows them to control localized oil-and-gas-related activity. But now, the new law, passed by both houses of Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled legislature, will overturn the 80-year-old precedent, taking the power away from individual communities and ceding it to the state. Oil producers and conservatives claim the old law unfairly discriminated against energy companies. “We don't feel it's appropriate that the oil and gas industry should be singled out,” said Kim Hatfield of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association. According to Reuters:

The bill was championed by energy companies, which contend that local interference in drilling practices would endanger the production bonanza that has boosted their profits and brought the United States within sight of energy independence.

Chart from the United States Geological Survey shows earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 and greater in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma’s move mirrors a recent decision in Texas—a similar ban on regulation by towns and cities was enacted on Monday. Laws like these, written to handcuff local legislation, are an interesting conundrum for conservatives; their zeal for commerce and oil reveals the meager limits of the “small government” ideology they often claim to believe in.

Oklahoma is predicted to experience 941 earthquakes of a 3.0 or greater magnitude this year, according to a survey by the state’s Secretary of Energy and the Environment.

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