by Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Erin Brockovich, at a Capitol press conference hosted by state Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, said she came to the Sooner State to serve as a “voice of the people, their advocate.”
Her comments were critical of the state oil and gas industry, saying Oklahoma and much of the rest of the United States has a rising frequency of earthquakes, and that “injection of massive amounts of water: in deep wells “is causing man-made earthquakes.”
In the course of discussion with reporters and others, Brockovich said “there is a right way to frack and a wrong way to frack. We have known that for a long time.”
She later explained she opposes any drilling activities that “spoil aquifers.”
Brockovich, well-known in activist circles, said she sometimes worries that “politics or something in the system keeps the voices of people from being heard on issues like this.”
In addition to Morrissette, others who stood with Brockovich during her press conference included state Reps. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, and Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa. Charles “Chalk” E. Norton (legislative director Professional Firefighters of Oklahoma) and Garland Pruitt of the state NAACP also were supportive.
The City Sentinel newspaper reported earlier that Brockovich Research & Consulting, which she runs with her husband, partners with Google in maintaining an online map that tracks “possible environmental health hazards around the world.”
In response to a question from The City Sentinel, Brockovich explained, “I’ve monitored this since I began my work in Hinkley, California. This is an issue where we have to lay down our swords, where swords have to be laid down. We have to come together.”
“I’ve monitored these issues since 2000. There is a steady uptick, more of an uptick lately, of people coming to us. The social network that has emerged has allowed more and more people to find us.”
Through that network, she said, “we have learned of … upticks in disease around Superfund sites. We are networking across the world. Our hope is to help people get better, to help doctors identify areas where there is disease, to improve health care for the people. We help to identify where the problems are.”
In response to an audience question on the federal Environmental Protection Agency, she said, “The EPA is overburdened, underfunded and flat broke. They need more money and more enforcement authority.”
She begged public officials to “stop using the planet as a trash can.”
In response to a query from a television reporter, Brockovich said she does not get paid for her work on environmental issues.
Brockovich demurred when asked if there was particularly legislation she hoped to trigger as a result of her visit. While her efforts might “become the basis for further legislation,” she said, “The main problem is that Oklahoma and the country needs better enforcement. We have to slow down or halt billions of gallons of contaminated water being injected into the ground.” Public policymakers “need to find out what chemicals were/are in the water, where it has been injected, and where it has gone.”
Among the questions lawmakers must ultimately address, she said, is where liability lies for water contamination, earthquakes and other problems arising from human activity.
Rep. Morrissette commented briefly, saying that in the short term legislative action is unlikely, but that in the long run the state needs to take more vigorous action.
Brockovich’s press conference at the Capitol was one of three events held in Oklahoma this past week.
She addressed a large crowd Tuesday evening (February 23) at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
Hosted by the Ponca Tribe, Brockovich appeared with Casey Camp-Horinek, a Ponca Tribal Council member and a long-time Native rights activist, and Johnson Bridgwater, director of the Oklahoma Sierra Club at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkowa.
Brockovich is best known for the 2000 motion picture that bears her name, and which starred Julia Roberts. Since gaining national fame, she has been involved in many successful lawsuits on water pollution, automobile safety, pharmaceuticals and medical devices.