Some states are banning natural gas fracturing. Others are banning bans on fracking. Last Friday, Oklahoma joined Texas in the second category when governor Mary Fallin signed a bill that prohibits Oklahoma cities and counties from saying no to any oil and gas operations, including drilling, fracking, and pipeline infrastructure in their municipalities.
The bill was designed to prevent a “patchwork of regulations,” Fallin said.
“Corporation commissioners are elected by the people of Oklahoma to regulate the oil and gas industry. They are best equipped to make decisions about drilling and its effect on seismic activity, the environment and other sensitive issues,” Fallin said in a statement. The alternative could “arbitrarily ban energy exploration and damage the state’s largest industry, largest employers and largest taxpayers,” she added.
The bill does allow municipalities to establish “reasonable setbacks and fencing requirements” that are necessary to “protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens,” as long as those setbacks do not prohibit or ban fracking or other oil and gas operations.
Oklahoma signed the bill, despite the fact that state officials recently acknowledged that the underground disposal of wastewater from oil and gas wells has been causing earthquakes.
The current average rate of earthquakes in Oklahoma is 600 times historical averages, according to the Oklahoma government. In 2014, 585 earthquakes at or above magnitude 3 rocked the state, up from 109 temblors in 2013 — a 437 percent increase.
“It is absolutely wrong to take away the existing right to regulate or ban a given activity when citizens believe it is harming their health, safety or well-being,” Johnson Brigwater, the executive director of the Oklahoma Sierra Club, wrote in an April statement on the Sierra Club website. Officials in Stillwater and Norman, Oklahoma had been considering legislation that would place stricter regulations on oil and gas activities.
“Even as they work to take away Oklahomans’ rights to decide what happens in their own communities, legislators have not approved a single bill this session to protect Oklahoma citizens from earthquakes or help citizens deal with problems created by the fracking boom,” Brigwater added.
State legislatures in Colorado, Ohio and New Mexico are also considering limitations on cities’ and counties’ rights to limit the oil and gas industry. Meantime, New York has banned fracking outright, while Maryland’s governor last week let a 2-year moratorium on fracking pass by default when he neither signed nor vetoed the legislation.