GOP leaders applaud order to 'protect' oil and gas

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Grant D. Crawford, Tahlequah Daily Press, Okla.
·6 min read
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Feb. 20—Gov. Kevin Stitt criticized President Joe Biden's executive orders to tackle environmental issues by signing an executive order of his own last week, asserting the state has a right to determine how to best develop its own natural resources.

"Energy production is the backbone of Oklahoma's economy," Stitt said. "Me executive order sends a clear message to the Biden Administration that threatening to destroy Oklahoma jobs and our constitutional ability to develop our oil and gas is unacceptable. We will not be passive in responding to systematic attacks on Oklahoma values."

In his pursuit to the White House, Biden pledged to address a myriad of climate issues and implement policies to set U.S. on a path to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. He stopped the permit for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, placed a moratorium on federal land leases for oil and gas, and Friday the U.S. re-entered the Paris Agreement.

The move by Stitt came just before Oklahoma saw one of its worst winter storms in years, as the state experienced challenges in transporting energy to the power grid, with natural gas wells freezing due to the record cold. His stance received heavy applause from GOP leaders in the Legislature, but some still think the state shouldn't be hesitant to accept changes to the energy industry.

Several lawmakers accused Biden of pushing a left-leaning agenda.

"Despite calls for unity and bipartisanship, President Biden's first actions in office have shown to be anything but that," State Sen. Zack Taylor, R-Seminole, said. "He's simply rehashing the same, tired anti-oil and anti-gas rhetoric peddled by progressive liberals for years. Oklahoma and its energy industry has been a leader in helping achieve American energy independence. We need to protect the men and women of the energy industry who have worked so hard to help our country achieve those gains."

Meanwhile, the power grid in Oklahoma has been strained due to the recent conditions. It led to a phone call from Stitt to Biden, asking that the federal government provide assistance with the increase in energy bills that are likely forthcoming.

It was not the only state to be hit hard by the storm, as Texas saw rolling blackouts for several days. The issue has generated arguments about whether it was caused by a shift to renewable energy sources, or if the blame should be placed on natural gas infrastructure not being prepared for the harsh conditions.

While Oklahoma's recent power issues did not meet the level of Texas', it too relies heavily on natural gas, leaving many to wonder if the state has placed too many eggs into one basket.

"Oklahoma needs to continue diversifying both its energy policy and economy," said Dell Barnes, Cherokee County Democratic Party vice chair. "This was in progress long before Jan. 20. Renewables create jobs for Oklahomans as well. The state has shown willful negligence in the past for holding oil and gas producers accountable; we should remember fracking, earthquakes, and spoiled water supplies when we discuss the 'costs' of oil and gas."

State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, was one of the many Republican leaders to applaud Stitt's effort. He agreed that the state should be able to dictate its own natural resources within the boundaries of Oklahoma.

"As the Constitution says, the states shall have the rights that are not specifically given to the federal government — the Tenth Amendment," he said.

Pemberton pointed to the swath of windmills found in western Oklahoma as evidence of the state already beginning to diversify its energy methods. He said the state's electric grid now relies about 14 percent of its power on wind, whereas 10 years ago it was zero percent. He added that while it's good for the state to find alternative methods, the switch to clean energy can't be done over night.

"If it wasn't for the natural gas and coal burning, we would have been in bigger trouble," said Pemberton. "You're still going to have that need for an energy source that's always going to be there. It's nice to have the others, but I don't see them taking over 20 to 25 percent [of the power grid] even 10 to 20 years down the road."

While many people have criticized Biden for his move to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, Pemberton said it could actually benefit Oklahoma.

"With the cutting of the XL pipeline, there's probably going to be more need for oil coming out of the ground, so it might actually help Oklahoma," he said. "You may see the rig count go up and more people working in the oil fields, because we've got to find another place to get the oil."

In a Saturday Forum on Facebook, the Daily Press asked readers if they support Stitt's measure, if they're concerned Biden's policies will hurt the state's economy, and if they believe Oklahoma relies to heavily on oil and gas.

Tabitha Hibbs thinks Stitt was pandering to his base by signing the order.

"Nothing more," Hibbs said. "If Oklahoma hopes to ever have a stable economy, it just move beyond depending entirely (or nearly entirely) on oil and gas."

Gene Haddock applauded the governor.

"I for one am excited that our governor stoop up to the bad decisions going on in Washington," said Haddock. "It's true we need to diversify, and we do. Have you drive through western Oklahoma? Have you seen all the incentives we get for solar energy?"

Brent Been said the state needs to do more to promote green energy, and that Oklahoma should expand its industry base.

"We do have to continue to promote, and fund green energy with long term goals of lessening our dependence on foreign crude," said Been. "And yes Oklahoma should expand its industry base. Climate advocates, now, have more of a case to make than they did before with devastating storms, wildfires and rising seas that pose an even bigger risk than ignoring them."

Warren Myers said the state should not kill off its fossil fuel resources before it has something equally as reliable.

"We have community in [northeast] Oklahoma that are facing power outages this week, because they depend partially on wind generation that is not up to capacity because of the weather," Myers said. "We have more reliable and efficient ways to generate power including, of course, natural gas. We can develop alternative energy without destroying our economy or putting communities in the dark."

In an online poll, readers were asked if they approved of Stitt's executive order, and 45 percent of the respondents said they "absolutely approve"; 34.9 percent said they "absolutely disapprove"; 12.8 percent said they "somewhat disapprove"; 4.6 percent said they "somewhat approve"; and 2.8 percent were undecided.