July 2015 Editorial Winner

Public safety has to come first

Brian Blansett, Tri-County Herald

It is becoming increasingly clear that we must choose soon between safety and cheaper energy.
Last week, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission expanded its "areas of interest" for Class II injection wells and is requiring the companies owning those wells to demonstrate within a month that they are not injecting wastewater into the bedrock of the earth's surface, which is the Arbuckle layer in Oklahoma.
As reported in this edition of the Herald, 16 of those wells are in Lincoln County and one is in Pottawatomie County.
The Corporation Commission issued its initial area of concern in March. In April, the Oklahoma Geological Survey identified injection wells as the "suspected" cause behind the 600 percent increase in Oklahoma earthquakes since 2008.
The wastewater injected into the wells is a byproduct of fracturing, which allows operators to increase production from oil and natural gas wells. Such wells have significantly reduced American dependence on foreign oil and have helped keep gasoline prices down.
In Oklahoma, the economic impact of the oil and gas industry is enormous. Industry reports say that up to a fourth of the jobs in the state are connected to energy, and there is no denying the industry's contribution to the state budget.
However, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled three weeks ago that Sandra Ladra could go to district court to sue two oil companies over injuries she received in the 2011 Prague earthquake, which was the largest in Oklahoma history. She was struck by pieces from the crumbling chimney in her home.
That case puts a sharp point on the choice we face. On one hand, we have cheap prices at the pump and an oil-lubricated state economy that is ahead of most in the country, if not the world. On the other hand, we may have caused damage that is only starting to make itself known and could become catastrophic.
It remains to be seen if a jury will hold the oil companies responsible for Sandra Ladra's injuries.
But let's say the Oklahoma Geological Survey is correct and injection wells are linked to the increase in earthquake activity.
Would the economic benefits brought about by the process that requires injection wells be worth it if a truly big earthquake rumbled through the state, toppling buildings and causing widespread injuries or fatalities? It sounds far-fetched, but was equally far-fetched 10 years ago to think of Oklahoma having an earthquake like the one that injured Sandra Ladra.
The choice is an easy one.
Public safety should always be the highest priority.

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