dochoc's blog

Finding Ways To Execute

Anti-Death Penalty Summit - Jan. 28, 2012 by C. Elle on Flickr Commons

The new law here making the administration of nitrogen gas the second alternative when the state executes people is simply a reminder of how barbaric the death penalty remains in Oklahoma.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed the bill into law about 10 days ago. The bill is a response to the botched execution by lethal injection of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett last year and the dwindling supplies of drugs used in the process. Lethal injection in death penalty cases, first passed by law in Oklahoma, still remains the principal form of execution here.

Executions in Oklahoma, Florida and Alabama have recently been halted by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is hearing a case brought by Oklahoma inmates over the state’s lethal-injection process. Meanwhile, drug companies have been put under pressure to stop manufacturing the types of drugs use in lethal-injection executions or to stop supplying them to states for that purpose, and this has created a shortage.

Whatever the outcome of that court case, the death penalty, in general, and Oklahoma’s apparent zeal to apply it, remains morally dubious. The recent botched execution of Lockett—he kicked his legs while his body squirmed during the process before dying 43 minutes after the drugs were administered—put the state in the media spotlight in a negative manner once again. The nitrogen gas bill does the same thing.

There is no definitive proof that the death penalty deters crime. A study last year showed 4 percent of people sentenced to die are innocent of their crimes. Those who oppose the death penalty argue there is no painless way to kill someone, making it a form of state-sanctioned torture. The death penalty is gruesome and archaic. It’s also racist. People from minority groups are sentenced to death disproportionally higher than the rest of the population. It’s also a costly, long drawn out legal process for states, which would be better off spending more money on education rather than executing people.

The use of the death penalty has been in decline in the nation, according to the National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty, but . . . “”the flaws and failures of the death penalty are more apparent than ever.” The organization notes, “18 States and the District of Columbia do not have the death penalty” and “30 states have not carried out an execution in the last 5 years.”

Oklahoma, unfortunately, has been in the media spotlight on this issue for decades. The majority of its lawmakers through the years have adopted a radical retribution mentality when it comes to crime. This is why the state has some of the highest incarceration rates in the country.

The bill passed and signed into law makes nitrogen “hypoxia” the second back-up method of execution, followed by the electric chair and a firing squad. The Washington Post recently reported, “It is not clear if nitrogen gas has been used as a formal method of execution before, but there do not appear to be any cases.”

Proponents of the bill say death by nitrogen gas is painless, but no one can definitely know that. The only people who would know that for sure would be dead.

I’m against the death penalty, but I realize the nation has historically debated this issue and now seems slowly but surely on a path to end it. What seems clear, however, is that Oklahoma’s national image has been damaged recently by Lockett’s botched execution and now its obsession with quickly finding a new way to kill people. With Oklahoma in the national television news these days for a variety of negative reasons, this is something the state just doesn’t need.

Bill Would Prohibit Cities From Banning Fracking

say no to fracking by Ari Moore on Flickr The Commons

As I pointed out in my last post, it appears the state has finally acknowledged the link between the dramatic surge in the number of earthquakes here and the fracking process.

But just after that happened, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed legislation that limits cities and towns from prohibiting oil and gas companies from fracking in their jurisdictions. Here’s a story on the legislation.

So it sure makes it seem like the state’s new web site on the earthquake issue, which discusses the link between wastewater disposal wells and earthquakes, doesn’t really mean much.

One of the measures, Senate Bill 809, which prohibits cities from banning fracking, passed the House on a 64-32 vote and will return to the Senate. It’s expected to pass since the Senate passed an earlier version of the bill.

All this comes after voters in Denton, Texas last year voted to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in their city. Cities in Ohio and California have also recently banned fracking as well. The entire state of New York has also banned the process. As the devastating environmental impact of fracking becomes more apparent, people are starting to act through protest and the ballot process.

Oklahoma lawmakers are acting preemptively in the interests of oil and gas companies and those who get royalty checks, but in the process they are taking away the rights of other citizens to protect their property and their own safety. Allowing people local control over their lives has always been a conservative tenet, but the power of the oil and gas lobby appears to trump that idea.

Here’s the bottom line: There are plenty of places to frack for oil and gas in Oklahoma. Why even do it near high-population areas or major water supplies?

In the fracking process, water laced with chemicals is injected by high pressure into deep underground rock formations that create fissures that release oil and gas. The wastewater from this process is then injected deep underground into disposal wells. Scientists believe it is the wastewater disposal or “injection” well process that has now made Oklahoma the leader in the number of 3.0-magnitude earthquakes in the contiguous United States.

Scientists also believe Oklahoma could experience a major earthquake causing major damage because of the seismic activity. Many Oklahomans are rightly concerned that the constant earthquakes are causing damage to their homes and other property. Environmentalists have also contended for years that fracking leads to water contamination.

Right now, a world oil glut has decreased the number of fracking operations in the state, but any major event or shift in geo-politics could change that quickly. Meanwhile, Oklahoma faces a real crisis when it comes to all these earthquakes, which shake our homes on a regular basis now. We need more than a web site.

State Finally Acknowledges Earthquake Reality, But Now Action Is Needed

Fracking In Karnes County by Sean Paul Kelley on Flickr The Commons

It’s better late than never, right? But now it’s time for action.

Going on four years since a 2011 damaging 5.6-magnitude earthquake and several aftershocks struck near Prague, Oklahoma, the state has apparently finally admitted the surge in quakes here could be tied to wastewater disposal wells used in the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process.

The New York Times spelled it out in a major story yesterday. The state has published a web site on the state’s major earthquake surge—Oklahoma now leads the contiguous United States in the number of 3.0-magnitude or higher earthquakes—that includes information about the wastewater disposal well connection to seismic activity. What’s more, the state’s Oklahoma Geological Survey issued a statement that finally conceded what scientists have argued for years now. These earthquakes are “very likely” induced by manmade oil and gas drilling activities.

Of course, there’s no telling how much damage the hundreds of smaller earthquakes over the last few years has inflicted and will continue to inflict on Oklahoma homes, other buildings and the state infrastructure, such as bridges. What about the condition of foundations of buildings or door and windowsills or cracks in walls? What about the alignment of bridge supports? The earthquake surge here is so phenomenal, at least in modern history, that it’s impossible to know unless thousands upon thousands of homes and buildings are thoroughly inspected. That takes time and money, and it’s not even the main dilemma right now.

The main dilemma is bringing a halt to the earthquake activity. But the most worrisome idea posited so far is that the wastewater disposal well process has unleashed an earthquake surge here that can’t be stopped for the foreseeable future even if the state were to issue moratoriums on disposal wells.

Nonetheless, I suggest the following:

  • The state should issue a complete moratorium on wastewater injection wells in the state as soon as possible and get ready for lawsuits from the oil and gas industry.
  • The state, perhaps with federal financial help, could offer free earthquake-damage inspections to any home or building in the state in particular zones of high seismic activity.
  • The state, which has already done some inspections, should conduct specific earthquake-damage inspections to all the state’s infrastructure in zones of high seismic activity.
  • Now is the perfect time to act. World oil prices are slumping and fracking activities have correspondingly diminished in Oklahoma’s oil patch. The science is overwhelmingly clear that manmade oil and gas drilling activities have caused the surge in earthquakes. Oklahomans, as witnessed in town halls on the issue, seem extremely concerned about their property and safety.

    In the fracking process, water laced with chemicals is injected by high pressure into underground rock formations that release oil and gas. The wastewater from this process is then “stored” after it is injected again by high pressure into wastewater wells. Scientists have published major studies arguing it’s the wastewater well process that has caused the earthquakes and warn the state may experience a major earthquake that does immense damage in the state. Environmentalists have also argued for years that the entire fracking process also leads to water contamination.

    There’s no denying the oil and gas industry is important to Oklahoma’s economy, but there’s different methods to dispose or reuse or recycle wastewater from fracking. The continued development of renewable energy sources, such as wind power, has also decreased our reliance on fossil fuels.

    We’ve now fracked our way to oil independence from the rest of the world but at what cost, especially to Oklahoma?

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