On May 29, 2015, Gov. May Fallin of Oklahoma signed a bill that specifically prohibits cities or towns from banning oil and gas operations such as drilling, fracking, water disposal, recovery operations or pipeline infrastructure. A similar ban was signed into law ten days prior by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Fallin and supporters of the new law contend that the bill reaffirms the three-member elected Oklahoma Corporation Commission as the regulator of the oil and gas industry and prevents a patchwork of inconsistent regulations across the state. “They are best equipped to make decisions about drilling and its effect on seismic activity, the environment and other sensitive issues,” Fallin said in a statement. “The alternative is to pursue a patchwork of regulations that, in some cases, could arbitrarily ban energy exploration and damage the state’s largest industry, largest employers and largest taxpayers.”
The Oklahoma bill, which takes effect in 90 days, does allow municipalities or counties to enact “reasonable” regulations concerning road use, traffic, noise and odors incidental to oil and gas operations. It also authorizes the establishment of requirements for fencing around oil and gas drilling sites and how far away from homes or businesses a well site can be located.
Oklahoma’s new ban comes amid warnings from the state’s own government that a recent dramatic spike in earthquakes is linked to wastewater injection, a key part of oil and gas activity and particularly fracking. To dispose of the immense amount of water used during fracking, companies inject it underground. The Oklahoma Geological Survey has determined that the majority of recent earthquakes in central and north-central Oklahoma are very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells.
The legislation was opposed by the Oklahoma Municipal League, which was campaigning for greater municipal authority and argued that cities are better placed to make informed decisions to protect local residents. Norman Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said she is most concerned that cities may not have the authority to regulate the disposal of wastewater into the drainage basin that leads to Lake Thunderbird, the primary water supply for as many as 200,000 people in several metro-area communities. “There’s nothing in the bill that says cities can have the authority to protect local drinking water supplies,” Rosenthal said.