Don’t take away Oklahomans’ right to regulate drilling (Guest post: Johnson Bridgwater)

Johnson Bridgwater is the Executive Director of Oklahoma Sierra Club.

Photo by blake.thornberry / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Photo by blake.thornberry / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s undeniable that the fracking boom has had a huge impact on many Oklahoma communities. It’s helped bring jobs and income to some, but the rapid increase in this new method of drilling has a flip side—communities have serious concerns about earthquakes and threats to vital water supplies for cities and towns, not to mention the noise, air pollution, and damage to infrastructure from highly industrial drilling operations.

In response to the grassroots concerns of their residents, several Oklahoma cities have sought to impose sensible regulations on drilling within city limits — such as 1,000-foot setbacks and limits on noise, traffic, gas flares, lights and dust. However, the Oklahoma State Legislature is on the verge of passing bills (House Bill 2178 and Senate Bill 809) that will strip away existing law that has for 80 years given cities and towns the right to zone, regulate and manage their own backyards when it comes to the oil and gas industry. Another proposal moving through the Legislature, Senate Bill 468, threatens to punish towns financially if they try to regulate local oil and gas activity.

If these bills become law, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission will become the single organization charged with regulating oil and gas activity in Oklahoma towns and cities. Yet funding for the Corporation Commission has been slashed by 13.1 percent since 2009, and the agency is likely to see even more cuts next year  due to Oklahoma’s $611 million budget shortfall. This three person Commission already faces a huge amount of work to address Oklahoma’s earthquake surge. It is hard to imagine how they could have the capacity to address all city and town issues related to regulating the oil and gas industry.

No law or agency can single-handedly address all the potential issues a town or city may face due to a changing oil and gas industry. Water use, odors, noise, vibrations, emissions, waste, road damage, visual character—these are just a few of the concerns that may arise for a town facing rapid industrial development. Local residents should have the right to deal with these concerns as they see fit, whether through permits, fees, zoning, licensing, regulations, restrictions, or even bans.

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.

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. The current law has worked well for 80 years to both give local residents the legal rights they deserve while still allowing the oil and gas industry to flourish. Oklahoma Sierra Club hopes our legislature will allow Oklahomans to continue governing and managing their affairs on this issue at the local level, as they have done for the past 80 years, and instead turn towards legislation to guarantee Oklahoma’s health and safety.

The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

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The opinions stated in guest articles are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

2 thoughts on “Don’t take away Oklahomans’ right to regulate drilling (Guest post: Johnson Bridgwater)

  1. It seems to be a contradiction that Republicans want to eliminate a community’s rights when they are so dead set against any thing that might interfere with “state’s rights”. Really it’s just all about corporations’ rights.

  2. I bet so many of these guys are state’s rights guys (looking at you Scott Pruitt), yet willing to run over the local municipalities when money gets involved.

    Get out and vote people.

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