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3 Arrested in Denton As Oklahoma Joins Texas in Banning Fracking Bans
The movement by states to block local citizen input into fracking operations in their backyards has spread from Texas to Oklahoma. With concerns rising after a dramatic increase in earthquakes tied to fracking injection wells, Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law Monday a bill that would block cities and counties from enacting any restrictions on drilling, fracking, pipeline construction or the disposal of the wastewater byproduct of drilling—the injection wells that have been linked to the Oklahoma earthquakes.
According to drilling supporters such as Fallin, this bill creates consistency and avoids a "patchwork of regulations" that could inconvenience the oil and gas industry. It does allow local governments to have some say over noise, traffic and pollution caused by drilling operations.
"Corporation commissioners are elected by the people of Oklahoma to regulate the oil and gas industry," said Fallin, referring to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which sets state energy policy. "They are best equipped to make decisions about drilling and its effect on seismic activity, the environment and other sensitive issues. The alternative is to pursue a patchwork of regulations that, in some cases, could arbitrarily ban energy exploration and damage the state's largest industry, largest employers and largest taxpayers."
She failed to note that the fossil fuel industry is also one of the largest donors to the campaigns of corporation commission candidates or that major players in the oil and gas industry, such as Oklahoma City-based fracking billionaire Harold Hamm, have pressured the state to downplay the link between fracking and earthquakes. The Oklahoman notes that commissioner Todd Hiett paid off a $200,ooo family loan to his campaign with contributions "mostly from donors in the oil and gas industry." Fellow commissioner Dana Murphy received more than half of her donations from the oil and gas industry in her latest campaign with Devon Energy and Chesapeake Energy her biggest donors.
"At the very time local governments really need to have the ability to address a serious safety issue in their communities, the state is stepping in and taking that very authority away from them," he said.
Concern about fracking injection wells has been growing along with the number and intensity of earthquakes. Oklahoma, where earthquakes were once rare, now leads the nation in earthquakes, with three times as many quakes of 3.0 magnitude or greater than California. Prior to 2009, when widespread disposal of wastewater into underground wells began, the state experienced an average of two such quakes a year; in 2014, it had 585.
Texas blazed the trail for Oklahoma when Gov. Greg Abbott last month signed a similar bill pushed by the oil and gas industry in response to a ban on new fracking operations passed by nearly 60 percent of voters in the north Texas city of Denton last November. The city is considering repealing its ban as fracking operations resumed in Denton this week.
"What began as a purely Denton issue quickly evolved into an issue impacting every city in the state of Texas—all thanks to the overreaction of the Texas legislature and their industry-purchased legislation we all know as HB40," Denton City Councilman Kevin Roden posted on his blog. "As a result, the legal and political landscape surrounding this issue has changed dramatically. If our goal is to dismantle HB40 and restore robust local control on oil and gas development in cities, then all paths should be on the table and analyzed."
The three Denton citizens arrested this morning are still in custody. #Denton #FrackingBan #LocalControl pic.twitter.com/MYUF3BRc7y
— frackfreedenton (@frackfreedenton) June 1, 2015
And some Denton citizens are already fighting back. A group of activists from the Frack Free Denton movement blocked the drilling site and three were arrested Monday on charges of criminal trespassing.
"How could I sleep at night or look my children in the eyes if I was not here today to mark, with my body as well as my words, this injustice?" said Adam Briggle, one of those arrested.
“I believe our community has the right to defend itself from imminent threats," said Niki Chochrek, another of the detained protesters. “The legislature in Austin wants us to believe that we must stand aside and allow ourselves to be poisoned by this reckless industry. I refuse to stand aside, and I believe most people in Denton feel the same way."
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Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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