| November 7, 2012

If you can read this, thank a roughneck

I sat there and took it all in, eating one of the best burgers I have ever tasted (thank you, Bricktown Burgers!), great country music playing on the radio and a man a few tables over reading his Bible while waiting for his order. Behind me, two gentlemen prayed over their meals before they began eating. Friends, THIS is Oklahoma. We still smile when we pass each other on the sidewalk, and we still wave when we drive past each other on the roads –regardless of whether we know each other.

As good as the burger was, it was a far cry (and about 50 floors) from where I ate lunch the day before – high atop the Devon Tower, the house that free enterprise built. It was an amazing two-day stretch last week that started with an energy and environmental policy discussion event at the Devon tower and continued the next day with tours of a drilling rig and a hydraulic fracturing location. We were welcomed with open arms as we climbed all over the drilling rig and saw up close the process used to fracture shale formations thousands of feet below the surface. Friends, THIS, too, is Oklahoma.

We know energy. We know oil, natural gas, wind and everything in between. And we have been doing it for decades. Here is just a portion of what Oklahoma can tell you about energy policy:

  1. Hydraulic fracturing is not new, and it is not a “drilling” technique. When one of our out-of-town guests at the policy luncheon described fracturing as “new” and “in its infancy,” a man at my table was quick to politely correct her. “Ma’am, 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.
  2. 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. Think back to the discussion I described earlier when a visitor from out of state expressed concern about a “new” technology that has been around for more than 60 years. When she was corrected, she responded by saying, “You are exactly right, and thank you for correcting me. What I should have said was, ‘It is new to the densely populated 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.
  3. If you can read this, thank a roughneck. We have some of the finest energy minds in the world right here in Oklahoma. Enormous appreciation is due to the executives, geologists, and business people strategizing and developing new opportunities while moving our nation ever closer to energy independence. But there is a critical piece of this puzzle that is sometimes overlooked – the roughnecks on the rigs who are literally moving us forward one 30-foot piece of pipe at a time. Rain or shine, hot or cold, 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 proud of what they do, as well they should be. They can hit a target area roughly 30-feet-wide drilling 10,000 feet vertically (far below the aquifers that provide our drinking water), curving laterally and proceeding roughly 5,000 feet horizontally. They are equal parts precision and toughness, and I have to say I was in awe. Without the men and women (our friends and neighbors) in the field doing the work, we wouldn’t have the energy resources to run the things we need and enjoy, including the device on which you are reading this. Besides, the tax revenue they generate pays for a good portion of our teachers’ salaries.

Policy should be driven by people who understand our people and our values. If we as Oklahomans do not feel our environment is being properly 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 a policy that reflects our values improve dramatically when the states take the lead. On the contrary, when a politically motivated White House (of either party) uses federal agencies like the EPA or Fish & Wildlife to push an agenda and pick winners and losers in the marketplace, everyone loses.

"[W]hen the work of men takes them to remote, treeless plateaus to punch through the earth's skin to reach the precious blood of industrial society, they share in a secret, inner revelation of their place, their indispensable place, at the center of a sleeping world that with its calm and tree-lined suburban streets and well-timed commuter trains and smell of morning coffee turns around them in their high-spirited, splendid isolation."-- R.R. Reno

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.

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