Logan Layden is a native of McAlester, Oklahoma. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2009 and spent three years as a state capitol reporter and local host of All Things Considered for NPR member station KGOU in Norman.
Washed limestone tumbles into railcars behind this artificial berm near Mill Creek, Okla.
Some landowners frustrated by the expansion of mining in south-central Oklahoma — particularly in the sensitive Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer — hope a slight change to the state’s mining law will make a major difference in the public’s ability to go up against large sand and limestone mining companies.
The Oklahoma Senate passed that slight change 36-0 late last week. Senate Bill 1184, by Susan Paddack, D-Ada, would change the permitting process at the state Department of Mines, replacing informal conferences with formal public hearings.
Right now, when a new mining operation is proposed, the DoM holds an informal conference where residents and landowners in the area can air their concerns and frustrations. From StateImpact’s March 6 report:
“There’s no admission of evidence, anything,” Ford says. “It’s just kind of a — somebody from the Department of Mines, or sometimes a hearing examiner, just kind of sits in there and listens to everybody.”
After the informal conferences, the Department of Mines issues a permit.
“Those that have participated in the informal conference are notified of this and allowed to file a request for a formal hearing,” Ford says.
So the first formal public hearing doesn’t happen until after a permit is issued. For most agencies, the opposite is true.
Johnston County Landowner Clyde Runyon just outside a limestone mining operation near Mill Creek, Okla.
Limestone and sand miners are getting a lot of attention lately. The amount of groundwater they can displace from the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer was recently capped, and the state House could authorize a new tax on the industry.
That’s not all. The Oklahoma Department of Mines has an unusual permitting process some landowners say leaves them feeling helpless when a new mine is proposed, and they want that process changed.
“It’s really screwed up,” Citizens for the Protection of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer President Amy Ford says.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map of Oklahoma as of February 25, 2014.
Save for a tiny corner of far southeast Oklahoma, the entire state is either abnormally dry, or already in drought.
Areas of severe, extreme, and exceptional drought, the worst categories, are still confined to the western part of the state, with far southwest Oklahoma suffering the most. But the latest data from the U.S. Drought Monitor show moderate drought conditions moving east and into Oklahoma City.
What does this mean for the capital city? Residents should start doing their part to conserve water use in their homes. With the Bermuda grass still being dormant, there is no need to water the lawn. Residents should also limit their shower times. If all residents would participate in water conservation now, this will help extend the current water supply in Lake Hefner, Oklahoma City’s drinking water source.
Gov. Mary Fallin called for the consolidation of the Oklahoma Historical Society, Arts Council and Department of Tourism during her state of the state address. Originally, the plan included the Scenic Rivers Commission, Will Rogers Memorial Commission, and J.M. Davis Memorial Commission, but they aren’t included in the latest version of bill.
“We’re all about heritage and education,” [Oklahoma Historical Society Executive Director Bob] Blackburn said. “Tourism is about image and economic development. You overlay image and economic development over history — suddenly you’re only doing projects that would draw tourists…That’s more marketing than it is scholarship.”
“I think once the merits of this potential consolidation are really considered, it won’t have a chance,” Blackburn said.
After reaching a national average of just over $4 per gallon, and around $5 in some spots in the midwest, propane prices are falling, mainly because of lighter demand amid warming temperatures.
Still, though, the current average of $3.48 per gallon is more than a dollar higher than the price this time last year.
StateImpact has reported on the hardship the high prices are causing for the 400,000 or so Oklahomans who rely on propane to heat their homes and cook their food, and on the reasons behind the shortage amid plenty, including the cold weather, a wet fall corn crop, and an increase in propane exports.
And on Friday, reporter Logan Layden went on OETA’s Oklahoma News Report to discuss the issue. (See the above video) Continue Reading →
Very few Oklahomans carry earthquake insurance, less than 1 percent. But that’s beginning to change as the state experiences more and more temblors.
StateImpact’s earthquake chart shows there were 11 Oklahoma earthquakes in 2008. In 2013 there were 291, and so far, this year has also been even more active. And many seismologists put the blame on disposal wells used by oil and gas companies.
Now, insurance agents are beginning to see big upswings in the number of people asking about earthquake insurance, as The Journal Record‘s Brian Brus reports:
In the first nine years of Brian Dudgeon’s career as an insurance agent, he sold perhaps one or two policies for earthquake coverage.
In the last few weeks, he and his partner at a Farmers Insurance office in Stillwater have sold 50 to 60.
“People are adding it to their policies,” he said. “We’re averaging 10-15 a week, and that’s people coming to me; I’m not approaching them about it. They’re selling like hotcakes.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Haze Rule would force large coal-fired power plants to install expensive air scrubbers or shut down. OG&E fought the rule every step of the way, but is assessing its options if the U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear its case.
The parent company of Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. plans to use a state law to recover environmental compliance costs from customers if it loses a case awaiting possible review at the U.S. Supreme Court, executives at OGE Energy Corp. said Tuesday.
An active aggregate mining operation near Mill Creek, Okla.
This isn’t the first legislative session some Oklahoma lawmakers are pushing for a severance tax for mining limestone and sand, but it’s the first time the idea has gotten this far.
On Monday, the House Appropriations and Budget Committee passed HB1876, which would allow up to a five percent tax on the production of limestone, sand, and other aggregates. It now moves to the full house for consideration.
But there are several caveats: It would only be a county-level tax for specific infrastructure improvements, couldn’t be enacted until county commissioners bring the issue to a vote of the people, and the severance tax would only apply to material sold in other counties or states.
As StateImpact has reported, residents, particularly in heavily mined Johnston County and on the sensitive Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, want something more for sacrificing their natural resources. When limestone is shipped to Texas to be sold, it’s cities and towns there that benefit from the sales tax on it.
A wind farm outside of Woodward in northwestern Oklahoma.
Western Oklahoma is on the forefront of U.S. wind energy development, and has been for more than a decade. But as wind farm projects creep east, they’re meeting more resistance from landowners and increased involvement from the state legislature.
On Feb. 14, StateImpact reported on the current effort to strengthen laws that require wind energy companies to pay for the decommissioning of turbines, and limit the distance turbines can be from homes without consent from homeowners.
That bill passed out of the Senate Energy Committee, and on Thursday, that same committee passed Senate Bill 1440, which would put a moratorium on the construction of any new wind farms east of Interstate 35 until 2017.
Several wind farms are under various stages of development east of Interstate 35, including one in Craig County by EDP Renewables North America that has drawn opposition by the Oklahoma Property Rights Association.
… [Senate President Pro Tempore Brian] Bingman said the bill is still a work in progress and may be refined to better describe areas that could come under a moratorium.
A gate into a silica sand mining operation near Mill Creek in south-central Oklahoma.
When Oklahomans apply for a permit from most state agencies to, say, dam a river or build a wind farm, formal public hearings are held before the permit is issued, where evidence is presented, concerns are voiced, and legally binding decisions are made.
But things work a little differently at the state Department of Mines, which oversees operations mining for sand and limestone in the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, one of the most sensitive water resources in the state. And many of that area’s elected leaders want a change.
Right now, formal hearings for mining permits are scheduled after a permit has been issued. Local residents are able to weigh in at informal hearings before the permit is issued. But Amy Ford, president of the advocacy group Citizens for the Protection of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, says these informal meetings just don’t carry the same weight.