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Oklahoma Democrats Support Moratorium on Oil and Gas Disposal Wells in Most Vulnerable Areas
and Demand Recognition of Importance for Continued Local Control

[OKLAHOMA CITY, OK, May 5, 2015] – According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Oklahoma experienced 585 earthquakes with magnitudes of 3.0 or higher in 2014 alone. The Oklahoma Geological Survey has also announced that when it came to the cause of the tremendous increase in earthquakes since 2008, oil and gas activity was “very likely” the cause. When there is a 60,000-percent (60,000%) increase in the background seismicity, the Oklahoma Democratic Party feels that this is evidence the state of Oklahoma can no longer afford to ignore.

“The oil and gas industry is the state’s most prominent industry and it is important that we continue to encourage that industry but not at the expense of our citizens, their homes, their pocketbooks, and ultimately their lives,” said Wallace Collins, Chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. “Oklahomans must hold their legislators accountable, whether Democrat or Republican, and demand that they put the brakes on allowing this detrimental practice to continue. Here you have a group of people, the Republicans, that tout their support for and campaign on the basis of “local control” then come session do everything they can to restrict the ability of local municipalities and county commissions to regulate and decide what is best for their area and their people.”

An amendment proposed by Representative Cory Williams (D-Stillwater) would have removed the proposed repealer language from Senate Bill 809 but was defeated by a party-line vote. The existing law, on the books since 1935, states that nothing is “intended to limit or restrict the rights of cities and towns…” or “to provide its own rules and regulations…” regarding well-spacing units, drilling, or production.

An additional amendment, offered by Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman) would have added the “protection of drinking water sources” to a list of “reasonable” ordinances that a municipality could enact pertaining to the incidental activities of oil and gas operations within its boundaries. The proposal enabling cities to protect their drinking water also failed on a party-line vote.

Further, when Rep. Brian Renegar (D-McAlester) asked Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) if SB 809 would override or supersede a local, standing ordinance which has been on the books for more than 60 years, the answer was yes, the ordinance would need to be “updated.” It is obvious that the Republican leadership believes that local control is excessive and unwarranted.

Oklahoma averaged only 1-3 earthquakes per year from 1975 to 2008, around 20 in 2009, but now currently averages 1.6 per day – the same amount we experienced in a year for over 30 years of record keeping. The U.S. Geological Survey Geophysicist, Dr. William Ellsworth said, “Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.”

Oklahoma has already recorded more than 300 seismic events with a magnitude of over 3.0 for 2015, just 5 months into the year, putting the state on track to greatly exceed, possibly even double the 2014 total. A large event, one in the range of 6.5 – 7.2 magnitude, would be life threatening to Oklahomans.

“Unfettered control of an industry, as has been allowed to happen in the Oklahoma oil and gas industry, is dangerous for everyone involved. We are putting the lives of Oklahomans at risk,” said Collins. “There is a difference between ‘big government’ and responsible government – we want responsible government. This means that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, who has recently taken stronger action on this activity, is now being faced with pending budget cuts. The message the Republicans are sending to us is “If you disagree with the people paying for our re-election campaign, we’re going to cut you off at the knees.

“People in the hardest hit areas – those most promising to the oil and gas industry – are living in fear. We have a responsibility to do something about that, if for no other reason that because we can and it is the right thing to do.”

The bill now awaits final passage on the Senate floor before heading to the Governor’s desk. We urge you to contact Senators and tell them to reinstate proposed House amendments by Reps. Virgin and Williams to protect Oklahoma’s drinking water, the homes, and people especially in the 16 most vulnerable counties (Alfalfa, Carter, Garfield, Garvin, Grant, Lincoln, Logan, Love, Marshall, Noble, Oklahoma, Pawnee, Payne, Seminole, Stevens, and Woodward), their surrounding counties such as Canadian, Cleveland, Murray, and Pottawatomie, and to maintain, not eliminate or degrade, our existing local control.