Watching the Weather Channel I realized that it is all based on fear. After all who would watch it if the weather was “normal.” Normal is boring. No one needs to see that. People need to watch scary stuff. That is what they showed tonight and again in the morning. They kept talking about a “winter storm.” When you listened more carefully it became obvious there was no storm. No snow, no precipitation no blizzard. There was just extreme cold. I don’t deny that extreme cold needs to be respected but that is not a “winter storm.”
The Weather Channel reported that 200 million people in America woke up to colder than normal temperatures. That sounded fearsome. That is until you realized that the United States has 320 million people. That meant that 120 million people woke up to temperatures above normal! Is that really so scary?
As we drove through Kansas I noted what I referred to as “Mennonite Country.” These were the communities around Newton Kansas and Tabor Kansas. I remember, friends of mine who went to post-secondary school here. There are some Mennonite colleges in the area.
After driving through Kansas we entered Oklahoma by late morning.
We drove by many Oil wells. In Oklahoma oil and gas is king. The environment is the vassal. Not even a lord, but a lowly vassal. A controversial pipeline project has been proposed from the Tar Sands of Canada to refineries in Texas.
The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, if it is built will travel through the heart of the Great Plains. The Great Plains are what we in Canada call the Prairies. Part of it will go through Oklahoma, the land of Scott Pruitt. Amazingly, earthquakes have been on the increase in Oklahoma. In fact, “the earthquake risk in Oklahoma is greater than anywhere else in the U.S.”
Oklahoma earthquakes have increased exponentially. In 2007 it had 1 over 3.0 on the Richter scale. Recently that has increased to more than 700 such earthquakes per year–a startling increase. Starting in about 2009 the frequency of earthquakes in Oklahoma increased from an average of fewer than two 3.0+ magnitude per year since 1978 to hundreds per year in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Thousands of earthquakes have occurred in Oklahoma and surrounding areas of Kansas and North Texas since 2009. What is happening here? This is where we drove today.
What is the cause of this? Some point to the significant amount of subterranean activity such as oil drilling, and more recently fracking. To this Trans Canada Pipeline who wants to build the pipeline, proposes to add a new element—bitumen. Bitumen not oil will be transmitted by its proposed pipeline. How does that fit with all this seismic activity? The answer is not well.
“With all these earthquakes the Keystone XL pipeline endangers any place that it passes,” according to veteran Oklahoma lawyer Garvin Isaac a long time critic of oil and gas interests in the state. Isaacs warns that “earthquakes and pipelines are a lethal combination.” Now Isaacs is a lawyer not a scientist, so we have to take what he says with healthy degree of scepticism, but it seems intuitively true. Of course I am a recovering lawyer so you take what I say with an even greater measure of scepticism. I know my wife does. She says I don’t know what I am talking about. She might be right. But since when has that ever stopped me from talking?
While the cause of this increase in earthquakes is not certain, many believe that the main cause is “water violently injected underground as part of the natural gas fracking process.”
Of course during this period of the enormous growth in earthquakes Oklahoma has been “protected” by its Attorney General Scott Pruitt who was responsible for investigating, challenging, and prosecuting the oil and gas sector. The best friend of oil and gas was in charge of investigating it. Unsurprisingly, during this time he spent much of his time fighting the federal Environmental Protection Agency about its role in this process of behalf of the federal government. Oklahoma’s Attorney General was more concerned about reducing regulation, than finding out what was going on. Pruitt was not interested in enforcing laws or regulations against corporations, he was opposed to such laws and regulations.
Since then Donald Trump appointed him the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. That seems like a good fit. While Pruitt was AG for Oklahoma he spent much of his time suing the federal EPA that he now heads because he believed only the state should regulate environmental issues. Of course he really meant no one should regulate, because he did not want the state to regulate oil and gas either. Unsurprisingly, many oil and gas businesses supported Pruitt’s election campaign.
While Pruitt was the AG of Oklahoma he sued the federal EPA 14 times. During this time, oil and gas controlled Oklahoma. Since Trump has appointed Pruitt the head of the federal EPA the oil and gas sector has its best friend as its regulator! Nice.
In Oklahoma politics it is often a matter of scratch my back and I will scratch yours. Pruitt clearly believed in this approach. Now he is in charge of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The fox is in the chicken pen.
The New York Times described Pruitt’s connection with the oil and gas industry as a “secretive alliance.”  The only part of that which does not ring true is that the relationship was not all that secret. Secrecy is not needed in a state like Oklahoma. Everyone expects and accepts such a relationship. Anything else would be unnatural, if not un-American. An elected official is expected to act in accordance with the needs of oil and gas. Oil and gas is sacred in Oklahoma.
One of the places where oil and gas interests intertwine with the forces of Mother Nature is Cushing Oklahoma. That is about half way between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. We drove near to it today. Cushing calls itself the “pipeline crossroads.” Cushing is also home to “the world’s largest oil storage facility. According to the 5th Estate, which had an interesting television show on this issue shortly before we left, “it holds enough gasoline to fill up ½ of all the automobiles in the U.S. and if the Keystone pipeline goes ahead it will reach from Alberta right through it to the Gulf of Mexico.” In Cushing there are 50 million barrels of oil stored underground. Add Keystone Pipeline and add another 800,000 barrels of oil per day and you have a powder keg. An earthquake here would create a pretty big mess.
As Isaacs said on the CBC show, “Donald Trump wanted Pruitt in there to protect oil and gas. Of course, he was not there to protect the environment. None of this was an accident.
Much to our surprise as we were driving Sarah, our GPS woke up! She had frozen solid in Fargo and refused to cooperate. This was wonderful news. We figured this happened because temperatures had rose enough to satisfy her.
We also noticed signs advertising Free 72 oz. steaks. Presumably, we would have to eat it. This reminded me of the good old Dutch Maid Ice Cream Parlour on Osborne Street when I went to University. They had a sundae that was called “Moron’s Delight.” It was so big that if you ate one you could have a second one free. What a deal!
We stopped for coffee at a MacDonald’s in Sayre Oklahoma. It is located about halfway between Oklahoma City and Amarillo Texas. Chris enjoyed a latte and I settled for a good old black coffee. I picked up a newspaper from Elk City. It had a section I found interesting. It contained a list of all the local that had been jailed recently. I did not notice any names I recognized. Not even the miscreants that I know.
After that we drove into Texas. Surprisingly it was colder here than the other states we drove through. We noticed hoar frost on the roads, but it was not so serious that we could not keep moving. It was cold, but really driving conditions were excellent. No problem for hardy Canadians. Local radio commentators kept talking about “extreme cold” but by Canadian standards it was a piece of cake.
Texas is a place of great culture. That may surprise some of you. We arrived in Hereford Texas after dark. We did not like driving in the dark, but wanted to avoid Amarillo so we kept going a little farther. After checking in to one more modest inn, we dined at the Pizza Hut. That is called ringing in the New Year with elegance.
 Eric Lipton, “Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General,” New York Times, November 14, 2014