Hundreds of people filled a meeting room at the Norman Public Library this week to discuss hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and whether Norman and other cities have the right to regulate the process.
The event was sponsored by the Scholars Strategy Network and environmental groups Clean Energy Future Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club and Our Earth. Mayor Cindy Rosenthall and several city council members attended, but the event was not an official city meeting.
Much of the discussion centered on whether Norman and other chartered cities in the state legally can ban or regulate drilling within city limits. After the 90-minute meeting, the issue appears far from resolved.
New York attorney David Slottje said cities in Oklahoma have the right to both ban and regulate oil and natural gas industry activity within city limits. Slottje is executive director of the Community Environmental Defense Council Inc., which helped more than 200 cities in New York enact bans on fracking.
Terry Stowers, executive director for the Coalition of Oklahoma Surface and Mineral Owners or COSMO, however, said oil and gas regulation is the exclusive jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. He said cities that try to set their own rules would open themselves up for lawsuits from land and mineral owners who would welcome oil and natural gas drilling.
Assistant city attorney Leah Messner said the question is unclear and likely would need to be settled by the courts, a costly process.
While the discussion focused mostly on whether cities can ban or restrict drilling operations, there was little talk of whether they should.
Rosenthall said there has been no official discussion about banning or restricting fracking or other industry activity.
“I think educating ourselves about all the various issues is important,” the mayor said. “I don’t think necessarily one forum by one group gives you all the information you need, but it can’t hurt in having an informed public and an informed council.”
If such a ban were to be enacted in Oklahoma, one of the most likely places would be Norman, a college town that often is a lone blue dot on an otherwise red political landscape. In many ways, Norman is not unlike Denton, Texas, where voters this fall will consider whether to ban fracking.
But Norman also is home to 125 active oil and natural gas wells, and the city has made a significant investment in natural gas. The community has converted city vehicles to run on compressed natural gas and has a city-owned CNG pump, where it sells the fuel to the public.