Emails Reveal Fallin Didn’t Want To Face Connection Between Quakes, Oil Industry
In November 2011, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck near Prague, Okla., causing significant damage and injuring two people. Right away, the possibility that the disposal of wastewater by injecting it deep into the earth — part of the hydraulic fracturing process — was to blame came up.
But EnergyWire‘s Mike Soraghan routed through thousand of emails and documents he got from Fallin’s office through the Oklahoma Open Records Act, and found that the governor was in no rush to point the finger at the oil and gas industry:
As she knocked on the federal government’s door for aid in the wake of a damaging earthquake in 2011, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) avoided talking about one aspect of the earthquake — its cause.
Too “awkward,” said Fallin’s communications director, Alex Weintz.
“The problem is, some people are trying to blame hydraulic fracturing (a necessary process for extracting natural gas) for causing earthquakes,” Weintz wrote in an email, vetoing mention of the earthquake at an energy conference. “So you see the awkward position that puts us in. I would rather not have to have that debate.”
… Her top aide told staffers to “make this go away” when earthquake preparedness came up in the state Legislature after the November 2011 quake. When constituents had questions, her office used talking points borrowed from an oil company. And, with Fallin at the helm, Oklahoma has done far less than other states hit by smaller and less frequent man-made quakes.
But, as Soraghan reports, Fallin has evolved on the earthquake issue since the Prague quake in 2011.
“As we have gathered more data and the science has evolved, the governor has said that natural causes alone cannot explain the increasing number of earthquakes,” Weintz said in a statement provided to EnergyWire last week. “As multiple studies have suggested, wastewater disposal wells are likely a contributing factor to increased seismic activity in Oklahoma.”
The story goes on to analyze Fallin’s actions at the time compared to other states, like Arkansas and Ohio, which already had shut down disposal operations in certain areas earlier that year. Soraghan also talks state lawmakers, like Rep. Cory Williams (D-Stillwater).
Williams says Fallin has gotten more responsive on the quake issue this year, but he says the Legislature and governor should have increased the flow of money to the regulators and researchers dealing with quakes, instead of cutting their budgets.
“We’re choking off the resources to the people who are taking on the problem,” he said.
Read the full EnergyWirestory here.