- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A collection of recent editorials from Oklahoma newspapers:

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The Oklahoman, March 25, 2015

Concerns intensifying over man-made causes of Oklahoma quake swarm

Concerns are intensifying over man-made causes of the recent Oklahoma earthquake swarm. The key question is how this will affect a state economy for which oil and gas exploration is vital.



Not long after “The Big One” in late 2011 (a 5.6-magnitude earthquake centered in Lincoln County), suppositions about links between exploration and seismic activity rose to prominence. After all, something must be causing a sudden increase in such activity! Why not connect it to a new and different thing that humans are doing?

But earthquake swarms have happened before in this state; they commonly happen now in regions of the world where oil exploration can’t be blamed. Still, the threat is real enough, and the science is legitimate enough, to take a possible link seriously.

We’re not ready to concede that the current swarm is entirely traceable to oil and gas activity. But this isn’t a denial that some connection could exist. Geologists differ on their interpretations of what’s been happening, but a growing consensus seems to point in the direction of man-made causes.

A recent study, according to a Tulsa World report, said faults that underlie Oklahoma may have been “reawakened, leading to the swarm of earthquakes in recent years that have scientists and other pointing toward injection wells and (hydraulic fracturing) as the culprits.”

Of course, anti-fracking zealots need little reason to join the blame human activity chorus related to earthquakes. They’ll get more ammunition from petroleum geologist Bob Jackman’s conclusion that the science “is settled” and the debate “is over.” Says Jackman, “These are man-made earthquakes.”

Any time we hear “science is settled,” we have cause for skepticism. But this isn’t global warming. We’ve no reason to dispute Jackman’s conclusion, other than to say that some petroleum geologists disagree.

That Oklahoma is experiencing earthquakes at epidemic levels is beyond dispute. In 2014, the state had nearly 600 quakes that registered 3.0 or greater, more than the total for the past 35 years combined. It’s important to note that a 3.0 earthquake is considered minor - as is a 4.0. What really gets our attention is the conclusion that bigger ones may be coming.

Jackman was reacting to a scientific study released by the U.S. Geological Survey. It concludes that 300-million-year-old faults are sleeping giants that have been reawakened by human activity. A significant finding - and one that skeptics must take seriously - is that these faults are different from those in other areas where swarms are occurring despite the absence of oil and gas activity similar to that taking place here.

Ergo, there’s something different about Oklahoma’s subsurface geology that makes the state more vulnerable to the effects of exploration activity. If so, what does this mean for the future of modern petroleum exploration? Does it mean a curtailment or a change in locations? Or a grudging acceptance of the trade-offs inherent in any industrial activity?

We don’t have an answer, but we do know the whole thing has entered the legal arena with a lawsuit filed against companies alleged to be culpable for “The Big One” in 2011.

Our hope is that studies will pinpoint areas of special vulnerability and those areas will be avoided. This will no doubt cause economic harm to exploration companies and royalty owners, but earthquakes have the potential to cause economic and bodily harm to average citizens.

The exploration that’s buoyed Oklahoma’s economy has taken a hit from low oil prices. Those prices will eventually recover. Less certain is whether entire regions of the state will be off limits to exploration. The real “sleeping giant” might not be seismic faults but vast reserves of oil and gas.

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Stillwater NewsPress, March 27, 2015

Jobs plentiful, workers not

The employers are coming. The question is where will they find employees.

Slim Chickens restaurant opened Monday. It employs 50 to 55 people. Pie Five Pizza is opening Friday.

Payne County’s unemployment rate was 3.4 percent in January, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission released January figures earlier this month.

The county’s unemployment rate for January 2014 was 4.1 percent. It was 3.0 percent in December, and 3.1 percent in November.

Several other restaurants and Academy Sports + Outdoors will be opening soon. Those openings should drive Payne County’s unemployment rate back into the low 3.0s.

Payne County residents shouldn’t be critical of restaurant and retail jobs. Sure, they may not pay as much as a job in engineering or accounting, but hospitality is a growth industry across the country.

However, they aren’t necessarily minimum wage positions either. State school superintendent Joy Hofmeister has said some experienced Chipotle restaurant employees can bring home $50,000 a year or more.

So, the problem, if you want to call it that, is the 3.4 or less unemployment rate. It means 36,195 Payne County residents are working, and only 1,291 don’t have jobs. Some of those may not be seeking employment for a variety of reasons - they may be retired or a stay-at-home parent.

A question is will restaurants, retailers and industries that want to locate here find a sufficient workforce?

It’s a good problem to have - a sign of healthy local economy.

It’s also a good time to be looking for a job.

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The Lawton Constitution, March 29, 2015

Public buy-in essential

Lawton and Southwest Oklahoma need an action plan to solve the water shortage crisis. That was the message relayed on Wednesday at a meeting at Cameron University, and it’s a great idea.

There are many options - new wells, gray water recycling, conservation, etc. - that need to be explored and implemented. Cloud seeding becomes effective this week.

It’s also time to get everyone involved, the public works director of Wichita Falls, Texas, urged, because it is a quality-of-life as well as an economic development issue, too. Public buy-in is needed.

The cities to the west of Lawton served by the Mountain Park Master Conservancy District - Snyder, Altus and Frederick - are making good progress, Will Archer, the district’s director, reported. It is analyzing resources available and bringing ideas to the table; when approved, they are added to the action plan. He urged the 50 attendees - from Southwest Oklahoma and eight from North Texas and others who came to the morning-long session - to do the same.

Our water problems today, according to one expert, can be traced to complacency over the last 20 years. Many of the members of the communities believed that water shortages experienced during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and the droughts of the 1950s and 1960s were over. They invested heavily and built additional storage facilities: Tom Steed Reservoir and Waurika Lake in the 1970s and 1980s.

“Bad decisions were made during wet years, (1980s to early 2000s),” said Duane Smith, former head of the state Water Resources Board. Citizens believed the new lakes would provide drought relief. They did not know when the next drought would come or how long it would last.

Because the Steed Reservoir in Kiowa County remained near full during the 20-year wet spell that began in the 1980s, Altus, for instance, abandoned the wells it developed in the 1960s in northern Wilbarger County just south of Red River in Texas. Now the city is working to recapture that source.

The current prolonged drought began about 2011. One speaker noted the area has had less than one-half of the historical average rainfall during the last 54 months. For a look at what the precipitation has been in our area since before statehood, see the Internet site: climate.ok.gov/index.php/climate/climate_trends/precipitation_history_annual_statewide/CD07/prcp/Annual.

Even though surcharges recently have been added to utility bills for water projects, which will provide some funds, it’s time to look for some real money. That means the 2012 and 2015 sales tax capital improvement and the sales tax extension projects.

An estimated $12 million is needed to dredge Waurika Lake. An examination of the feasibility of dredging lakes Ellsworth and Lawtonka is needed, too. Dredging will increase storage capacity.

It’s a current popular idea. The city manager of Hobart said the city wants to dredge Lake Rocky and a woman from Quanah, Texas, is urging the dredging of the silt-filled Lake Pauline near her community.

On March 12, Lawton’s city planning commission took the lead. It issued a memorandum of support for expanding and financing water projects. Chairman Pat Henry, in part, wrote:

“Despite the proactive steps taken by the city to limit water usage, conservation or rationing-based solutions may not provide a long-range solution and may carry with them deterrences for families and businesses to remain or locate to Lawton.

“It appears that any solution of Lawton’s water issues will be expensive. The 2012 and 2015 CIP/STE’s were based on the existing priorities, which at that time did not include the availability of water.

“The planning commission hereby states its support of a re-prioritization of those projects supported by the 2012 and 2015 CIP/STE’s, and/or any other financial methods, making solutions to Lawton’s water supply problem the number one priority for funding.”

It would be shortsighted to not follow the city planning commission’s recommendation. More funds are needed for water development and the CIP and STE sales taxes are ideal packages to look at.

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