Hundreds of Oklahomans Turn Out for Earthquake Hearing

By Sean Murphy | January 19, 2016

Oklahoma residents concerned with a dramatic increase in the number of earthquakes called for more regulations on the oil and gas industry on Jan. 15 and urged state leaders to take action to stop the quakes.

About 200 people tried to pack into standing room-only committee rooms at the Oklahoma Capitol, sat on the floor and spilled into the rotunda, prompting legislators to move the forum into the House chamber.

Several Edmond-area residents said their homes have been damaged and their children frightened after a swarm of quakes rattled the Oklahoma City suburb in recent weeks, including a 4.3-magnitude temblor last month.

Emily Pope, a Maryland native who moved to Edmond four months ago after her husband got a job here, said she is shocked at the number of quakes that have rattled her home.

“We had no idea we were moving into a huge earthquake zone,” she said while holding a four-month-old toddler. “If we had known that, we probably wouldn’t have accepted the job out here.”

Edmond resident Julie Allison, who lives about 2 miles from the epicenter of two recent quakes, said she believes oil and gas companies should be forced to subsidize the cost of earthquake insurance premiums and claims of damages.

“People can’t afford to pay the deductibles,” Allison said. “If I sound like an unhappy citizen, it’s because I am. It’s time for everyone to wake up.”

Despite growing concerns from the public, a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin said “there is no need for the governor to intervene at this time.”

Fallin formed a coordinating council to address the issue, but has deferred mostly to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry and has directed some wells to shut down or reduce disposal volumes.

Fallin spokesman Michael McNutt said the governor’s secretary of energy and environment also is working on the issue.

The lawmaker who organized the forum, Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, said he intends to push legislation in the upcoming session to establish a reparation fund to help residents impacted by wastewater injection that would be based on a new fluid disposal fee. He also wants to impose mandatory reductions in injection amounts in the ten Oklahoma counties where most of the earthquakes are occurring.

Any attempt to impose new restrictions or fees on the oil and gas industry is likely to face fierce resistance from industry lobbyists, a powerful force at the Capitol.

Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, said he’s not optimistic lawmakers will take steps to address the quakes because they’re afraid of harming an industry that is a key economic driver in the state.

“Unfortunately, I think we’ve chosen the industry over our constituents, and we’ve gotten things out of balance,” Williams said. “I need people to engage on a much grander level even than we’re seeing today.”

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