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The Oklahoman encourages us not to blame energy companies for creating the earthquakes they created…

earthquake oklahoma

I hope you've been enjoying our recent string of terrifying earthquakes! The newest batch occurred in northwest Oklahoma near the Fairview area. Most of the quakes have been in the 4.0 - 5.0 range, or as we in Oklahoma call them, "Donkey Quakes." They get this name because you really can't tell if it's an earthquake or just your neighbor's donkey scratching its back on your trailer.

As I'm sure you know, the scientific consensus is that Oklahoma's earthquakes are caused by waste water injection wells that pump millions of gallons of toxic water deep into our earth. These wells are owned and operated by the energy industry. You know, that collective of corporate behemoths that control almost all levels of Oklahoma government, economy and media. As a result, I was puzzled to see this editorial headline in our local energy industry-controlled newspaper – The Oklahoman:

Science needs to prevail in approach to Oklahoma quakes

Do the math.

That's the takeaway from “The Martian,” a movie filmed in the earthquake-prone nation of Jordan. The protagonist makes it back to Earth because he did the math. He applied rational, scientific solutions to his dilemma, which was how to survive with limited food after being left behind on a distant planet.

We were encouraged to hear state Rep. Richard Morrissette appeal to science to tackle the problem of earthquake-plagued Oklahoma at a time when residents are increasingly nervous about seismic activity. Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, convened a public forum on the swarm of quakes affecting the state. It was the second of two such forums that drew large, passionate crowds in the same week.

Wow. Did I really just read “Science must prevail?” in the same newspaper that claims “climate change skepticism is healthy?” Everything okay there? Did they publish this by mistake? Was the anonymous writer drunk on fracking fluid and trying to get fired?

The answer to those questions is “No.” It looks like The Oklahoman is simply pulling the old “switcheroo” and trying to make everyone think they care about the science behind the quakes, when in reality, this editorial, like virtually all of The Oklahoman’s earthquake coverage, serves as nothing but a tool to deflect blame and manufacture doubt for the energy industry they loyally protect.

Take the next paragraph for example:

The fervor is understandable. The sheer number of earthquakes would account for that alone. Add to that the populist tendency to blame seismic activity on someone “rich” and to add that someone to the list of defendants in lawsuits.

Yeah, that’s it. We just want to blame the “rich,” because we’re immature and jealous of their wealth and fancy houses in Oak Tree. The "fervor" has nothing to do with people being terrified of earthquakes, or the desire to hold the corporations and people who profit from the activities that caused earthquakes accountable.

Too often, litigation is the default (no pun intended) choice for responding to problems. It's perhaps a matter of time before lawsuits hit energy companies or manufacturers or power producers based on the allegations that they've “polluted the weather” and caused an outbreak of massive, violent storms.

Hey, look at that! It’s the old slippery slope argument! It’s a favorite of The Oklahoman Editorial Board and other idiots from around the country who corner themselves into supporting a bad argument.

“Legalize Gay Marriage? What’s next? Letting people marry cats and dogs and goats?!”

“Ban Assault Weapons? What’s next? Taking my hunting rifle and bow and arrow?!

Seriously, The Oklahoman really thinks that holding corporations accountable for the damage they caused via earthquakes will lead to lawsuits over hail damage? That's just absurd. It will never happen.

If this happens, we trust, science and not emotion will prevail. We hope the courts will “do the math” and side with rationality. The last thing Oklahoma needs is a mob mentality that assumes the recent seismic swarm is entirely traceable to hydraulic fracturing and/or the energy companies have conspired to keep the government response muted and/or state government has looked the other way.

Heh. Who would think energy companies “have conspired to keep the government response muted” or accuse state government of “looking the other way.” Where would an idea like that even come from? It’s not like Harold Hamm and David Boren invited our state seismologist for coffee in an effort to intimidate him and influence his research, or the OGS waited until the very last second to acknowledge the link between earthquakes at waste water injection wells.

None of this is true. Years ago, Republicans in state government were accused of looking the other way in refusing to mandate insurance coverage for certain forms of autism treatments that had a dubious scientific basis. Then as now, passions rose and allegations swarmed that the powerful were oppressing the weak. But that mandate, as other insurance mandates do, would have increased the cost of health insurance for everyone.

Uhm, what does that have to do with anything? Are you trying to distract us? Show me on the doll how the policies and activities of insurance companies lead to children being diagnosed with autism? They’re totally separate issues. There’s no connection. I can't believe the energy industry executive who approved this editorial let The Oklahoman slide it in here:

What would successful verdicts in cases filed against energy companies do to the employees of those companies, the worth of their shareholders or the state treasury? It's too soon to say but not too soon to conclude that a cessation of modern oil and gas exploration would be devastating.

Fear! Feeeeear!! Feeeeeeeeaaaaarrrr!!! WoooHahahahaaaaaaaaa! If you sue the energy companies for earthquake damages all oil and natural gas exploration in Oklahoma will stop!!! We'll cut funding from education, mental health programs and healthcare! Okay, we're already doing that, but Oklahoma is doomed! Fear! Feeeeear!! Feeeeeeeeeeeeear!

Maybe I'm too much of a realist, but if energy companies are found liable and have to pay earthquake damages, I'm confident they'll find a way to develop new, slightly more safe ways to extract our state’s valuable resources, dispose of toxic wastewater and make ship loads of money. If not, they'll just work with their friends in the legislature and governor's office to pass some laws that will prevent them from being liable. They have nothing to worry about.

Nevertheless, the disposal well-earthquake link can't be ignored and neither the state government nor the energy companies have ignored it. Any allegation otherwise falls into the category of demonizing — an emotion-based response that might spill over into costly litigation.

That’s a good point. The State and Energy Companies haven’t ignored the disposal well-earthquake link at all. They’ve been leaders on the issue. For example, remember those Devon Energy Earthquake Talking Points that Mary Fallin requested when she was going to speak at that conference and was worried about fielding questions about earthquakes? They were upfront, fact based and honest:

devon energy earthquake talking points 2

Seriously, can we get Aaron Tuttle’s attorney to sue The Oklahoman, Devon Energy and Mary Fallin for libel? I doubt we have a case, but I don’t think that bothers Aaron’s attorney all that much:

In “The Martian,” astronaut Mark Watney solved one problem at a time and then solved the next one. Spoiler alert: He managed to survive until his rescue because he “did the math.” Energy firms, state regulators and the public must come together on the earthquake problem and work out the proper response. Emotion has no place in this discussion.

You know those terrifying earthquakes that, if large enough, can destroy your property and take your life? Don’t get all emotional about them. Stay calm and rational. As Tree Beard would say to Pippen, "Don't get hasty." You should only get emotional on issues that are important to The Oklahoman, like for example, tax cuts, tort reform and limiting access to healthcare.

There are only two paragraphs of the editorial left. After spending about 500 words arguing that “science needs to prevail,” The Oklahoman does their best job to cast doubt on actual science:

Oklahoma has had earthquake swarms before unattributable to disposal wells. Swarms are occurring today in parts of the world where disposal wells are rare or not existent. Jordan itself is a hot zone for seismic activity. It has been for centuries. We don't know whether Oklahoma was a hot zone, say, 500 years ago. But science may conclude that the recent swarm is entirely manmade, as well as how to mitigate it without devastating the economy

Ha. "Science may conclude...." I love that. Notice how they didn’t quote any legitimate scientific study that refutes the overwhelming evidence that Oklahoma’s earthquakes are man made? That’s because I’m not sure a study like that exists. They’re basically just making shit up and tossing out vague “You never knows” to try and cast little doubt on the issue, and in the process, help out their friends in the energy industry who, based on the tone of the editorial, are terrified about potential lawsuits.

Need more proof? Check out how the editorial ends:

Regardless, a case can't be made that energy companies knew they were about to cause earthquakes and are therefore liable for any damages. Any conclusion otherwise isn't “doing the math.” It's totting up the potential amount of riches from a lawsuit settlement.

I'm not a legal scholar, and I admit I don't center most of my arguments around quotes from Matt Damon movies, but you don't have to be aware of a problem to be held liable for it? Right??? Like, if there's a defect in a car and that defect kills people, the car company can't just say "We had no clue. Sorry." and then be off the hook. Am I wrong? Please advise.

Also, are energy companies really that dumb? According to their employment brochures, they hire some of the best and brightest scientific minds out there. They've developed super-advanced, highly developed, futuristic ways to extract natural resources from deep underground. Are we're really supposed to believe they didn't know there was a chance that waste water disposal could cause earthquakes? Like, one scientist in a meeting room never raised his hand and said "Hey guys, could creating these deep underground lakes of toxic, highly pressurised water possibly lubricate inactive faults and cause earthquakes? Could there be any unknown risks?"

Over the next few years, I wouldn't be surprised to see leaked memos and emails emerge that show energy industry companies did know about the risks associated with waste water disposal and did know induced seismicity was a possibly outcome and, of course, did nothing to warn or tell anyone about it. When that happens, I hope all the victims of their negligence pull a Matt Damon and "Do the math." They deserve what they're owed.

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