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Political Hot Potato: Who can halt injection wells in Oklahoma?

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- The call has gone out.

Some believe it's time to put a stop to oil and gas injection wells.

Monday a group of Oklahomans went to the governor’s office to make the request.

However, the governor says she doesn't have the power.

The Corporation Commission says it's not their job either.

The debate that seems to have become a round of "pass the buck."

Whether it’s a good idea or not is still out for debate.

Right now, many are just wondering who can make the call.

Tuesday News Channel 4 asked the governor point blank if she does or does not have the power to shut down the wells.

Governor Mary Fallin said, “The governor does not have the power to put a moratorium on injection wells.”

Fallin says the Oklahoma Corporation Commission does have the power to regulate the oil and gas industry, but even they cannot implement a moratorium.

Governor Fallin said, “The corporation commission does not have the power to do a blanket moratorium, but they do have the authority to not issue a permit on a disposal well.”

That bounces the ball back to Oklahoma lawmakers.

“I guess that just leaves us,” said Representative Cory Williams, a democrat from Stillwater. “If the corporation commission is saying they don't have the authority to do so, and the governor is saying through an executive order she believes she doesn't have the power to do so, then the power rests with us.”

But, those in the industry say a moratorium is not the answer.

Kim Hatfield, with the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, said, “If you'll ask seismologists, the rapid cessation of injection, like they're calling for, could actually cause seismicity.”

That's claim we'd never heard of before, so we did some checking.

The Oklahoma Geological Survey said it's not something they've researched.

They referred us to a geophysicist at Stanford.

We tracked that researcher down, and he says there are some scientists who believe it may be possible, in isolated cases, for a complete shutdown to cause earthquakes.

But he says for now it's simply a theory, an idea with no proof.

Williams said, “If the industry is going to run with that theory they need to bring forward the science.”

Representative Williams has asked lawmakers to do something about the wells, but so far no action has been taken.

We asked Governor Fallin if legislation was passed calling for a moratorium , would she support it?

She would only say she has faith in the current system.

Governor Fallin said, “I think the current system is working very well.”

The current system she’s referring to is a traffic light system enforced by the commission.

Representative Williams said the corporation commission is taking more time to approve requests for new injection wells in the 16 counties where there has been concern.

He says that's not a perfect solution, but it is progress.

After this story aired the Oklahoma Geological Survey contacted us saying ‘there are peer reviewed papers that have suggested rapid changes are more likely to trigger earthquakes.’ They go on to say the information would suggest a gradually reducing the injection would be a better way to stop the wells. Below is a link to one such article.

PT_SeisPerm_JGR_2007

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