fracking

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers throughout our newsroom share pieces that have kept them reading. They share tidbits using the #NPRreads hashtag — and on Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.

This week, we bring you four reads.

From NPR's Washington correspondent Don Gonyea:

It's only rock and roll.

Tamara Mix

After months of debate, drafting and deferring, the Stillwater City Council on Monday approved a stricter oil and gas ordinance.

The council unanimously approved the new rules, which were crafted with the input of residents, the energy industry and Senate Bill 809 — legislation that goes into effect in August preventing municipalities from enacting ordinances that ban fracking and other oil and gas activities, The Oklahoman‘s Adam Wilmoth reports:

The ordinance applies only to new wells. It imposes a 660-foot setback from the property line of “protected use” properties, including homes, churches, parks, schools, libraries and hospitals. It also forbids new structures being built within 400 feet of oil and gas wells put in after the ordinance becomes effective.

Ambient noise from drilling operations at the setback boundary will be limited to 69 decibels, which is about the same noise level as a vacuum cleaner. The ordinance includes higher variances from that sound level for limited periods of time.

Operators will be required to carry general liability commercial insurance policies of at least $1 million and environmental impairment insurance of at least $2 million. General umbrella liability coverage of at least $5 million also would apply.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

In November 2011, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck near Prague, Okla., causing significant damage and injuring two people. Right away, the possibility that the disposal of wastewater by injecting it deep into the earth — part of the hydraulic fracturing process — was to blame came up.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

As Oklahoma’s earthquake swarm developed over the past few years, State Seismologist Austin Holland’s work days got a lot longer. That’s the main reason Holland is leaving his position in Oklahoma to be a supervisory geophysicist at the Albuquerque Seismic Lab.

From The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies:

“I have averaged about 80 hours each week for the 5 1/2 years I’ve been here,” Holland said Monday in an emailed statement. “I want to change my work-life balance, and this opportunity is a good way to do that.”

Since Holland came to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, the state has seen a rapid increase in earthquakes, some of which have been linked to disposal wells used for produced water from oil and gas activity.

While most of the attention on the impacts of fracking has focused on things like drinking water, air pollution and earthquakes, state regulators in Pennsylvania are working on another less-discussed, but no less serious, side effect of oil and gas development: forest fragmentation.

The team at Reveal produced a nifty video on Oklahoma’s earthquake surge that shows, with entertaining visuals, the science of “induced seismicity” — the scientific mechanism that explains how disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry can trigger earthquakes.

Sarah Nichols / Flickr

Gov. Mary Fallin signed controversial legislation in May outlawing municipal bans on fracking and other oil and gas activities. Officials in some communities are re-examining their local drilling ordinances to comply with the law, which goes into effect later this summer.

One city in southeastern Oklahoma, however, isn’t budging.

MEET ‘ORDIE’

When McAlester Mayor Steve Harrison first heard state lawmakers were writing a law to end citywide bans on fracking and drilling, he contacted his state representative. He then called local leaders in other cities and, later, penned a protest letter to Fallin.

It didn’t work. The bill was signed into law May 29. Harrison’s final move was writing a eulogy, dubbed “Requiem for an Ordinance: 1974-2015.”

“Ordie, as I like to call him, never caused trouble for anyone while he was here. Leastwise, I never heard a complaint,” Harrison says, reciting the sarcastic ode, which was published in the mayor’s newsletter.

When you flip on a light switch, odds are, you're burning coal. But as the fracking boom continues to unleash huge quantities of natural gas, the nation's electric grid is changing. Power plants are increasingly turning to this low-cost, cleaner-burning fossil fuel.

Bill Pentak stands in the middle of a construction site, looking up at his company's latest project towering overhead — a new natural gas power plant.

New York state's Seneca Lake is the heart of the Finger Lakes, a beautiful countryside of steep glacier-carved hills and long slivers of water with deep beds of salt. It's been mined on Seneca's shore for more than a century.

The Texas company Crestwood Midstream owns the mine now, and stores natural gas in the emptied-out caverns. It has federal approval to increase the amount, and it's seeking New York's OK to store 88 million gallons of propane as well.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

In 2014, Oklahoma had more than three times as many earthquakes as California, and this year, the state is on track for even more. A lot of them are small, but some towns are seeing a quake almost every day, and seismologists warn that large and damaging earthquakes are becoming more likely.

The government in the Sooner State has only recently acknowledged the scope of the oil and gas industry’s role in the problem.

Reveal’s Michael Corey and Joe Wertz of StateImpact Oklahoma hop in a car and drive toward the epicenter of two earthquakes that had just struck near the town of Guthrie, Oklahoma, to see the after-effects for themselves and talk to the people who live in the area. Are residents troubled by or numb to the earthquakes?

In this story, the reporters travel throughout the state speaking to experts, helping us gain a better picture of Oklahoma’s man-made earthquakes.

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