OKLAHOMA CITY – An “earthquake damage reparation fund” financed from a fee levied on oilpatch wastewater pumped into disposal wells will be among several ideas discussed Friday during a public hearing at the State Capitol.
The event is being organized by state Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City.
The public forum is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 15, starting at 9 a.m., in Capitol Room 412-C. Adjoining rooms 412-A and B have been reserved for anticipated audience overflow.
The event will be streamed live by KWTV Channel 9, Oklahoma City, online at “news9.com,” according to Rep. Morrissette, who will chair the hearing. State Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, will be vice chairman.
The forum will open with eight presentations, and the speakers will answer questions from the public.
Afterward, members of the audience will be afforded an opportunity to express their opinions about the rash of earthquakes that have been shaking Oklahoma, particularly in the last three years. Each speaker from the audience will be limited to five minutes, because of heightened public interest in the subject, Morrissette said. House sources told CapitolBeatOK they have received hundreds of calls on the issue in recent days.
Commitments as principal speakers at the forum have been received from:
§ Todd Halihan, a hydrogeology professor at Oklahoma State University;
§ Scott Poynter, an Arkansas attorney who represents Oklahomans who have filed personal injury and property damage lawsuits against the industry for damages attributed to manmade earthquakes;
§ Petroleum geologist and former U.S. and international oil and gas operator Bob Jackman of Tulsa;
§ Johnson Bridgwater, director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club;
§ Michael Root, a certified petroleum geologist and certified independent professional earth scientist who is CEO of TerraQuest Corp. in Edmond;
§ Buddy Combs, assistant commissioner of government for the Oklahoma Insurance Department;
§ Casey Camp-Horinek, a member of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma who is an actress and an active environmentalist;
§ Former state legislator Jerry Ellis of Valliant, a newspaper publisher. Ellis will be unable to attend but has provided Morrissette with a few remarks about earthquakes, a subject he investigated before and after his legislative career concluded in 2014.
Potential responses to the seismic activity that has rocked northern and central Oklahoma, in particular, will be examined during the forum. “These are discussion topics that are intended to get a public dialogue started,” Morrissette explained.
The various suggestions include:
* Establish a reparation fund to assist Oklahoma residents impacted by oil and gas drilling and injection of produced wastewater into disposal wells. The proposed fund would provide financial compensation to residents in need of earthquake insurance premium assistance, structure repair, medical costs and as-yet unknown outcomes resulting from oil and gas drilling and disposal activities.
* Levy a new fluid disposal fee on every barrel of injected fluid, and earmark those fees for the reparation fund. In commentary published earlier this month, Root noted that a disposal fee of just a nickel per barrel of oilfield wastewater would produce more than $50 million per year. A billion barrels of oilfield fluids were injected into more than 3,000 disposal wells in this state in each of the last four years, records indicate; a barrel is equivalent to 42 gallons.
* Limit the amount of produced water each oil and gas company can dispose of in a calendar year.
* Create a statewide fluid disposal plan.
* Discuss a statewide recycling plan for produced wastewater.
* Enact statutory changes to reform insurance industry standards for seismic activity policies in Oklahoma, removing all occurrence timeframe preconditions to coverage as well as removing “manmade ’quake” verification stipulation.
* Develop an earthquake early-warning alert system such as the federally funded system established in California, combining federal support with funding from the gas and oil industry.
* Impose a partial moratorium on wastewater disposal and oil/gas exploration in seismically active areas of the state. U.S. Geological Survey data indicate 10 Oklahoma counties experienced an estimated 98% of the earthquakes in this state between 2009 and New Year’s Day 2016: Payne, Pawnee, Lincoln, Logan, Garfield, Noble, Grant, Alfalfa, Major, and Oklahoma County. A modest reduction of 6½% of the drilling in those areas would save an estimated 20% of the Oklahoma population from potential health and property damage.
* Incentivize oil and gas producers to invest in establishment of diverse “bust-cycle” jobs programs designed to protect the Oklahoma economy from devastation when over-production results in price deflation and massive personnel layoffs. To illustrate: an oil/gas production company would establish subsidiary businesses, unrelated to the industry, in various sectors such as manufacturing, construction, transportation, banking, retail marketing, etc., and as a condition of employment, provide all laid-off energy workers job placement within those subsidiaries.