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Manmade Earthquakes Continue To Rattle Oklahoma

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There’s not much more startling than waking up to a 3.7-magnitude earthquake shaking and rattling your house, but that’s what happened to many of us Sunday morning in central Oklahoma, and it’s the “new normal” here.

No big deal, right? The epicenter of the earthquake that hit around 7:15 a.m. was about four miles east of Edmond.

Of course, The Oklahoman doesn’t want us to worry about it because the oil and gas industry, which scientists claim is causing all the earthquakes and damaging our homes and property through an element of the fracking process, is spending so much money to try to fix the problem. But the reality is that the quakes keep coming at stupendously bizarre record levels, and our state leaders, especially the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt have sold us out to the frackers.

The newspaper published what really shouldn’t be called a “story” on Aug. 23 explaining that disposal well operators have spent more than $35 million to try to stop the earthquakes. The story, written by Adam Wilmoth, is nothing more than a publicity release for the oil and gas industry, and the $35 million number is highly questionable. Here’s a paragraph from the story:

”The industry has done a really good job of cooperating and coordinating with the Corporation Commission," Commissioner Dana Murphy said this month at the Tri-State Oil and Gas Convention in Woodward. "You're talking about $150,000 to $250,000 or more for these companies not just to shut down their wells, but to plug them back."

Good job? What about all the earthquakes that keep shaking things up here? A $100,000 difference in the range of money to “plug them back”? It’s completely not credible information. Do not believe anything “official” about this issue that emits from the mouths of an Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner these days. Do, however, read this story about campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry received by Murphy and other commissioners and Pruitt. Be sure to note, as I’ve pointed out in the past, that Fallin has received thousands upon thousands of dollars in campaign contribution from oil and gas interests in her political career as well.

I’ve written a version of the following paragraph countless number of times in the past few years.

In the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process, water laced with toxic chemicals is injected underground by high pressure to create fissures in rock formations that release fossil fuels. The wastewater is then injected by high pressure into what are called disposal or injection wells. Scientists have confirmed it’s the disposal well process that is causing Oklahoma’s staggering amount of earthquakes.

The state is on track to experience more than 800 earthquakes of 3.0-magnitude or higher this year, the most in the contiguous United States. Just a few years ago, the state only experienced two or three minor earthquakes a year. The fracking boom, which has already gone bust, has turned the central and north-central part of the state into a property owner’s and realtor’s nightmare.

The constant shaking has to be damaging homes and property. Meanwhile, people here live with the worry that one of those earthquakes is going to keep going and going and going and turn into a significant disaster that will destroy homes and maybe even kill and injure people. The scientists say it could happen. They even say it might not even matter if fracking or disposal wells were banned here. The damage has already been done. Read this about issuing a moratorium on disposal wells:

Such a ban would not only prohibit the operation of a legally permitted activity, but also shut down wells that are not linked to earthquakes. In fact, experts say shutting down injection could make the earthquakes worse, and even create larger environmental problems.

As Oklahoma’s state seismologist Dr. Austin Holland has observed, stopping injections could actually cause new earthquakes, adding that there is “a fair amount of modeling that shows that might be the case.” There are also many cases where earthquakes continue after injection ceases, according to Holland.

The only solution to this problem is political. We need political leaders who care about the vast majority of people who live here rather than one industry that donates a lot of money to campaigns and has a powerful political lobby. The oil and gas industry is going to be here until it has sucked out the last drop of oil or the last cubic foot of natural gas from the ground. The approach or approaches to stopping and limiting the manmade earthquakes may well be nuanced and complicated, but we’re not even going to get to that point with our current state leadership.

Here are seven things we CAN do:

(1) Do not trust the word of Fallin, Pruitt, any member of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission or The Oklahoman about the earthquake issue.

(2) Vote for local and statewide politicians that are concerned about earthquake damage to your home and other property.

(3) Be ready to join a class action lawsuit or lawsuits against disposal well operators and the oil and gas industry.. Standard & Poor’s, which rates credit risks, has already pointed out the possible numerous financial implications and dangers of Oklahoma’s earthquakes.

(4) Show up at meetings or town halls about the issue. The Oklahoma Sierra Club is an excellent resource to use to find out about such meetings.

(5) Carefully document any damage to your property caused by an earthquake. Note the time and date and confirm it with the Oklahoma Geological Survey. Take photographs of the damage.

(6) Join the growing movement to create more renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.

(7) Know what you need to do during an earthquake. Many experts tell people to find cover under a table or something sturdy rather than run outside, which is a normal reaction.

Costello Stabbing Death Shines Light On Mental Health Issues

Image of Mark Costello

The recent stabbing death of Oklahoma Labor Commissioner and Republican Mark Costello seems at first as inconceivable as it is horrific.

But what’s very much conceivable and, in its own way, very much horrific, is the anti-health care agenda promoted by Costello’s own political party, the GOP, here in Oklahoma and across much of the country.

These two points intersect because Costello’s son, Christian Costello, 26, has been arrested in his stabbing death, which occurred a few days ago at a Braum’s restaurant and store in northwest Oklahoma City. Christian Costello, according to media reports, suffered from severe mental illness, which included schizophrenia. Oklahoma has historically underfunded its mental health system, but that has been compounded lately by the Republican Party’s demonization of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which requires most health insurance plans to cover mental health treatment and Oklahoma’s obstinate refusal under a state government dominated by the GOP to expand Medicaid under the ACA.

In fact, here in Oklahoma, Attorney General Scott Pruitt has made his political career about suing the federal government over the legality of the ACA. He gets cheered on by many of his fellow Republicans and The Oklahoman editorial board, and the suffering continues.

We might assume that Costello, 59, was able to financially afford any possible treatment received by his son, but the problem is local access to quality care. The fewer dollars available overall for mental health treatment in any given jurisdiction or state will mean fewer quality options for patients. So, in the end, it really won’t matter how much money potential patients have unless they can seek treatment in a more enlightened state that realizes mental illness is a significant part of our culture that needs to be addressed quickly and efficiently whenever it surfaces. It’s good for the patient; it’s good for the entire society. When we treat mental illness, we lower criminal incarceration rates, for example.

I’m not suggesting, either, that there aren’t some great mental health providers here. The late Costello just four months ago gave a speech in which he apparently lauded local mental health advocates and, according to a media report, said this about mental illness, “And we must be understanding and understand that society cannot ignore this problem, and if it does so, it does so at its peril.”

Those are the truest of true words, but most of Costello’s fellow Republican leaders here seem to dismiss the notion of “society” in favor of “individual responsibility” even when it comes to people so incapacitated by mental illness they can’t afford medical care for their condition or they can’t get it because they don’t qualify for government assistance or they can't find it because it doesn’t exist.

People might accuse me of politicizing Costello’s brutal killing too early, but it’s NEVER too early to talk about the failure of Oklahoma to address its mental health and drug addiction issues. My heart goes out to the Costello family, and I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually family members speak out more publicly and productively about the problem of mental illness in general. But nothing substantial is going to happen here in Oklahoma with the current prevailing GOP mindset about health care in general.

Public Education Crisis Grows In Oklahoma

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The Oklahoma teacher shortage crisis continues to worsen, and its impact on current students can’t be underestimated or presented in overly hyperbolic language.

State leaders, mostly Republican legislators and Gov. Mary Fallin, have failed to respond appropriately to the emergency by raising teachers’ salaries and enhancing their working conditions. In fact, Fallin and most of her fellow Republican leaders’ intention seems to be to do as much damage to our public schools as possible in order to privatize our basic educational system and turn taxpayer money over to private schools and companies.

Let’s be clear: All current public school students, even in the richest school districts, are affected by this leadership failure. It means fewer teachers and overcrowded classes. It means fewer programs. Overall, it tells the nation Oklahoma leaders care pretty much less if not the least of all about education than most states in the country.

The Oklahoma State Schools Board Association recently released the grim results of a survey of school districts it conducted during the first two weeks of August. The districts represent 80 percent of the state’s public school population. A news release from the organization about the survey first notes that there are about 1,000 teaching vacancies in the state and that 600 teaching positions have been eliminated since last year.

Here are the “highlights” of the survey:

About 75% of school leaders say hiring teachers was more difficult this year compared to last year.

The shortages are widespread, regardless of the district’s size and location and the subject area.

About 60 percent of districts anticipate needing to seek emergency teaching certifications to fill vacancies.

Almost half of districts expect to increase class sizes.

About one-third of school leaders said their schools likely would offer fewer courses this school year.
Special education, elementary, high school science, high school math and middle school math are the most difficult teaching positions to fill.

School leaders are deeply worried that the overall quality of teaching applicants is having a detrimental impact on student achievement.

Many newly hired teachers need extensive support and training, which increases pressure on school leaders who have limited time and resources with which to provide support.

Oklahomans need to know these basic facts as well: (1) The state has cut public education more than any other state since the economic downturn in 2008. (2) It has the lowest per pupil spending average than all of its neighboring states and in the region. (3) It has ranked in the bottom five—sometimes as low as 49th—for average teacher salaries for years.

It’s a no-brainer that Oklahoma’s anti-education mentality, combined with the current Republican dominance of state government, lead to increased social problems, high incarceration rates and low college graduation rates here. These are issues that affect us all in one way or another.

Only a seismic shift in the political milieu here will change things, and, frankly, that seems difficult to imagine. Meanwhile, mediocrity only creates more mediocrity. It’s a cycle that spins out of control for now. Sure, the state has some high-achieving students and schools, but it needs more, along with a renewed commitment to students at risk.

Our state leaders seem intent on starving our schools of needed funding and obsessively pressing a high-stakes testing agenda so they can claim public education is failing here. This way they can try to break teacher unions and turn tax dollars over to private schools or companies. This isn’t a conspiracy theory. This is a GOP political agenda.

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