Economy, Energy, Natural Resources: Policy to People


Accidents on the Rise, But State Law on Digging Near Pipelines Unenforced and ‘Riddled’ With Exemptions

Many entities are exempted from state rules regulating digging near pipelines, and no state agency has the authority to punish those who cause digging-related accidents.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Signs warn excavators to call before digging near underground pipelines, but many entities are exempted from such rules. And no state agency has the authority to punish those who cause digging-related pipeline accidents.

Most pipeline accidents in Oklahoma are caused by digging, and the state’s rate of digging-related pipeline accidents — which have resulted in eight deaths and 10 injuries — is on the rise.

But Oklahoma’s pipeline law is “riddled with exemptions and lacks an enforcement mechanism,” which could mean intervention from the federal government, The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports:

If the state doesn’t act, the federal government could step in to use its enforcement authority for pipeline excavation accidents and for issuing civil penalties. The state also could lose out on federal grants for the Call Okie service and other damage prevention programs.

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Disposal Well Shutdown After Swarm of Earthquakes in South-Central Oklahoma

Disposal Well

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A Love County disposal well was shutdown last week after a state seismologist suggested it might have triggered a swarm of damaging earthquakes that shook the area for weeks in September.

The well, located near Marietta, was new, and waste fluid injection started on Sept. 3. The quakes started two weeks later, on Sept. 17, EnergyWire’s Mike Soraghan reports.

The strongest was magnitude 3.4, and they have damaged chimneys, broken windows, and caused objects to fall in homes and businesses.

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OG&E Asks Federal Judge to Dismiss EPA Lawsuit

Oklahoma Gas and Electric on Sept. 6 asked a federal judge to dismiss the Environmental Protection Agency’s lawsuit over emission estimates from upgrades at two of its coal-fired power plants.

Attorneys for the electric utility, Oklahoma’s largest, claim the EPA’s suit should be thrown out because “there has been no demonstrated injury to the Government or the environment.”

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Damaged Land Could Once Again Cost Oklahoma Mining Regulator Its Federal Funding

Coal mining can cause a lot of damage to the landscape, and the federal government has rules about how mining companies are supposed to treat the land after they’re done with it.

Basically, they’re supposed to return it to approximately what it was like before.

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is charged with making sure the Oklahoma Department of Mines is enforcing that rule. If the Oklahoma mining regulator doesn’t, the feds can step in and take over that role.

A new report from the U.S. Department of the Interior claims some Oklahoma mining companies aren’t properly returning land to its original state, and even skirting the regulations entirely.

In addition to poor reclamation practices, the Tulsa Field Office told us about numerous instances of surface mining operators in Oklahoma halting active mining at sites while claiming that they intend to return to mining at a future date. Because these mines are technically still open, they do not have to be reclaimed immediately, in effect allowing operators to circumvent AOC (approximate original contour) requirements.

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Sierra Club Sues OG&E, Claims Coal Boiler Mods Violated Federal Clean Air Act

The Sierra Club has filed a lawsuit against Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., the state’s largest electric utility, alleging the company violated the federal Clean Air Act by modifying a coal burner at its Muskogee power plant without “planning for increased levels of air pollution and failing to obtain a permit from state regulators.”

From the complaint, which is embedded above:

The Clean Air Act specifically prohibits the construction (including modification) of a “major emitting facility” unless a permit is issued …

The environmental group’s lawsuit is separate but similar to one filed in July by the U.S. Justice Department on behalf of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Continue Reading

Federal Appeals Court Rules Against Oklahoma and OG&E on Air Pollution Plan

The Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to reject Oklahoma’s air pollution plan and impose stricter standards was upheld Friday by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court in Denver.

“We conclude that the EPA has authority to review the state’s plan and that it lawfully exercised that authority in rejecting it and promulgating its own,” the appeals court wrote in its 2-1 decision, which is embedded above. Continue Reading

The EPA is Suing Oklahoma Gas & Electric Over Its Power Plant Emission Estimates

The federal government on Monday filed a lawsuit against Oklahoma Gas & Electric, accusing the electric utility of violating the Clean Air Act by improperly estimating the amount of emissions that could come from upgrades at two coal-fired power plants.

A copy of the government’s complaint, which was made through the Environmental Protection Agency, is included above.

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Supreme Court Sides With Oklahoma in Tarrant v. Herrmann Water Case

The Supreme Court of the United States on Thursday unanimously sided with Oklahoma in Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann, the state’s long-simmering fight with Texas over water in the Red River basin.

The decision was unanimous, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the opinion for the court. Here’s an excerpt from her opinion, which is embedded above:

Three things persuade the Court that the Compact did not grant cross-border rights: the well-established principle that States do not easily cede their sovereign powers; the fact that other interstate water compacts have treated cross-border rights explicitly; and the parties’ course of dealing

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Transcript of Arguments in Oklahoma’s Supreme Court Water Case

Attorneys representing Oklahoma and Texas argued Tarrant v. Herrmann at the U.S. Supreme Court. The case concerns water in the Red River, and experts say it’s a regional water fight that could impact national water-sharing agreements.

The Supreme Court has released a transcript of today’s arguments. The above transcript is preliminary. The court’s disclaimer: “Same-day transcripts are considered official but subject to final review.”

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