Environment, Education, Energy: Policy to People

Oklahoma Oil and Gas Regulator Wrestles With Oversight of Wind Industry

Wind turbines line the horizon near Kingfisher, Okla.

mtneer_man / flickr

Wind turbines line the horizon near Kingfisher, Okla.

Corporation Commission meetings are usually pretty dull, but the Sept. 11 technical conference on wind energy was standing room only. It was lively — and theatrical.

When Tammy Huffstutlar of Calumet took her turn at the microphone, she cued up recordings of whirring wind turbines to accompany her testimony.

“I don’t know if you can hear this or not, but this is my life,” she told Corporation Commissioners Dana Murphy and Bob Anthony, who presided over the meeting. “That’s why I’m here talking about property rights and regulation.”

Huffstutlar and her husband live near Calumet in Canadian County. The couple purchased the farm more than 35 years ago. In 2012, Apex Energy’s Canadian Hills Wind farm started operating, and the Huffstutlars were surrounded by 11 turbines placed on neighboring land.

The couple has been outspoken about the nuisance of living with that whirring sound and flickering shadow of the spinning blades. Tammy says the turbines decreased their property value have aggravated her husband’s heart condition.

Expansion, oppisition

Oklahoma was the country’s fourth-largest wind power producer last year, data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency show. Wind farms are common in the panhandle and western parts of the state, but projects are expanding into northeastern Oklahoma, including areas that have never hosted fields filled with turbines, like Osage and Craig counties, where some landowners have mounted vocal resistance.

“We’ve invested $6 billion dollars in the state of Oklahoma, communities are begging us to come to town,” Jeff Clark of the Austin-based Wind Coalition said at the meeting. “Many farmers and ranchers in the state of Oklahoma are struggling to stay on their land. Wind for them represents a huge opportunity.”

So far, opponents have had little success fighting projects at the city and county level, and the industry’s growth has pitted neighbor against neighbor.

Like the Huffstutlars, Jody Harlan also lives in Canadian County — but she’s fine with the turbines.

“It’s a non-polluting, green source of energy,” she said. “We really ought to regulate the energy that’s toxic and dangerous to us, not the one that some people just don’t like to look at.”


The wind energy issues currently up for discussion in Oklahoma fall into three categories: siting, notification and decommissioning: where should turbines go, who should know if they’re coming and when, and how should they be dismantled.

Siting is one of the most contentious issues.

“To have wind turbines in close proximity to residential housing is not an appropriate and responsible land use,” Warren Thomas, who owns a farm that straddles both Cleveland and McClain counties said at the meeting. “Those are incompatible.”

Thomas and other residents would like the state to establish setback rules — rules that would set minimum distances between turbines and houses. Cities and counties can set those kinds of rules with zoning restrictions, but statewide setback regulations might prove too intrusive for a low-regulation state like Oklahoma, where officials generally don’t like interfering with the energy business.

“People keep thinking we do all these things with oil and gas, and we should regulate like oil and gas,” Commissioner Murphy told attendees. “I just hope people understand … there’s no law or rule that says how far away that says how far an oil and gas well has to be from a house or a building.”

At this point, the meetings are at the “inquiry” level. The Corporation Commission is hosting two more wind-energy meetings this year. A second technical conference is scheduled for Oct. 15; a final hearing will be held in early-December. No formal wind energy rules have been proposed, and it’s possible that the meetings won’t result in any new framework for industry oversight.

There’s also a  political component to the wind energy meetings. The Corporation Commission’s inquiry was launched at the request of Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, who authored Senate Bill 1440, a shelved measure that would have placed a temporary moratorium on new wind projects in northeastern Oklahoma.

Currently, the Corporation Commission doesn’t have the authority to create rules or regulations addressing many of the issues being raised, says agency spokesman Matt Skinner.

The commission can’t approve new wind rules — which would still have to be vetted through the standard rulemaking process — until the Oklahoma Legislature grants it the specific authority to do so.

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  • Jim Wiegand

    There is no oversight with the wind industry. That’s why every single wind industry study has been rigged to hide the impacts from their turbines.

    A perfect example is the latest wind industry study/article to hit the media related to bird deaths. The real story is that is article is based upon a bogus study attempting to trivialize the wind industry’s slaughter to eagles and other highly protected species. Some of the authors work for West Inc. Every study I have ever looked at from West Inc. has been scientific garbage. This outfit works for the wind industry and they have been producing bogus research for the industry for over 15 years.

    As for the billions of birds claimed to be killed annually by communication towers, buildings, windows and domestic cats here is the
    truth………..Communication towers, buildings, windows and domestic cats kill veryfew raptors and bats. In fact raptor and bat deaths at communication towers are virtually nonexistent. While it is true that millions of more common, city
    dwelling birds are killed by windows, none of this mortality has anything to do
    with the rare and highly protected species like eagles being slaughtered by
    wind turbines in their remote habitats. The Interior department knows this and
    could correct this falsehood overnight; instead they have allowed this garbage
    to circulate for years. It is even on their website.

    Guess who ultimately pays for all this deception? Taxpayers forced to pay for
    these useless inefficient hulks.

    This ongoing pattern of pattern of deceit has been taking place with the Wind Industry and our Interior Department for decades. This is a
    fact……….I have yet to come across a single credible study related to the
    wind industry’s mortality impacts. Peer reviewed or not, it does not matter,
    this industry’s bogus research is hiding over 90% of the turbine mortality.
    West Inc. also has been producing bogus mortality research for the wind industry for over 15 years.

    One final thought about West Inc. and their absurd bird mortality comparison or so called study, they forgot to include the billions of chickens and turkeys killed each year at processing plants.

  • mark duchamp

    The article says: ““People keep thinking we do all these things with oil and gas, and we should regulate like oil and gas,” Commissioner Murphy told attendees. “I just hope people understand … there’s no law or rule that says how far away that says how far an oil and gas well has to be from a house or a building.””

    Murphy’s argument is irrelevant. Wind turbines emit infrasound that make people sick. Oil and gas wells don’t.

  • Defend Wind

    Wind turbines don’t create the environmental or health hazards some other things do. That’s why their federal regulations are more focused around military and FAA radar, flight patterns for aircraft, and migratory birds. The emissions from a wind farm won’t give you cancer (or Wind Turbine Syndrome for all of you malingerers out there). http://www.ecorazzi.com/2012/11/12/watch-stephen-colbert-mocks-those-with-wind-turbine-syndrome/

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