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Oklahomans—Not Feds—Should Regulate Oklahoma’s Energy Sector

January 4, 2013 - 9:16am CST

Oklahomans know energy. We know oil, natural gas, wind, and everything in between. Here is just a portion of what Oklahomans can tell the nation about energy policy.

First, hydraulic fracturing is not new, and it is not a “drilling” technique. We have been fracturing wells in Oklahoma since the 1940s. This is not new to us. According to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, more than 100,000 total wells (and more than 10,000 horizontal wells) have been fractured in Oklahoma alone. Further, the actual fracturing process is a completion technique that takes place after the well has been drilled and cased. There is constant monitoring of pressures and materials, and the expertise of these crews is remarkable.

Second, the Founders’ ideas of federalism are just as relevant today in the high-tech, fast-paced world of 21st century energy as they were when this nation was founded. This “new” technology that has been around for more than 60 years is actually only new to our nation’s northeast. That is a critical distinction that might very well explain not only the reason this process has become controversial, but certainly the reason the states should take the lead on regulating energy within their borders. If a “new” process or technique makes its way into a state, officials can gather expertise from their counterparts in other states and tailor laws and regulations to best fit their citizens’ needs and desires. It is a beautiful system, as opposed to a top-down system of mandates from federal agencies that try to force every community to fit the same mold.

Third, if you can read this, thank a roughneck. We have some of the finest energy minds in the world right here in Oklahoma, and enormous appreciation is due to the executives, geologists, and business people moving our nation ever closer to energy independence. But let’s not overlook the roughnecks—those people on the rigs who are getting us there one 30-foot piece of pipe at a time. Rain or shine, they spend days and weeks away from their families to get precious materials out of the ground so you and I can have a better life. They are equal parts precision and toughness. They can hit a target area 30 feet wide while drilling 10,000 feet vertically (far below the aquifers that provide our drinking water), curving laterally and proceeding another 5,000 feet horizontally. Without these men and women in the field doing the work, we wouldn’t have energy to run the things we need and enjoy. Besides, the tax revenue they generate pays for a good portion of our teachers’ salaries.

Policy should be driven by people who understand our values. If Oklahomans feel our environment is not being protected, we can impact the process. If we feel our businesses are being unfairly burdened or overregulated, we can impact the process. Our opportunities to have policy that reflects our values improve dramatically when states take the lead. On the contrary, when a politically motivated White House (of either party) uses federal agencies like the EPA or the Fish and Wildlife Service to push an agenda and pick winners and losers in the marketplace, everyone loses.

Rest assured the states have agendas as well, but those agendas normally strike a balance between the advancement of economic resources and the protection of natural resources. That balance must be acceptable to the people of that state, or they will change it.

It is the beauty of the federalist model, and nowhere is that more evident than in the energy sector.

Brian Bush (J.D., University of Oklahoma) is OCPA’s executive vice president.