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Welcome to CU Public Policy Forum VIII

Alternative Energy in Oklahoma in the new legacy revolution

An Invitation to Help Shape Southwest
Oklahoma's Energy Future!

What is the issue?

Alternative Energy in OklahomaOnce again the CU Public Policy Forum visits the important topic of energy.  Since the Forum's last session on Oklahoma's energy future, the horizontal drilling boom has transformed a host of communities across the state.  Natural gas has also transformed the nation's and the world's energy landscape, opening up the possibility that the U.S. will no longer be as dependent on foreign sources of oil.  But the natural gas boom has proved to have its own complexities, from possible links to earthquakes to its influences on ground water.  Since our last forum wind power too has progressed, though perhaps not as rapidly.  Yet, one thing has not changed.  Supporters of legacy fuels and supporters of non-fossil energy sources such as wind still remain at loggerheads.  This forum, then, will once again explore whether there are other ways to pursue the conversation about the state, the region, and the nation's energy future.

What is the data?

On the day of the forum, April 1st, 2014, we had a lively group with participants from the Caddo Electric Cooperative, CenterPoint Energy, the city council of Lawton, and the public at large, to name only a few.   Our panelists, Mark Meo, Susan Postawko, Hopper Smith, and Tony Wohlers all gave lively and engaging presentations and the Q & A was very fruitful.  The consensus reached by the forum was threefold.  First, within the state, there was agreement that Oklahoma was one of the states nationally that lags behind in innovation when it comes to energy technology and energy policy.  In particular there seems to be little leadership across the state to promote STEM education or to create a research complex that would keep major corporate sponsors of and participants in such research in the state (CONOCO's 2011 departure from Bartlesville was cited here).  Similarly, panelists agreed that neither legislators (state or federal) nor state agencies (to include universities but also the office of the governor) had showed consistent and effective leadership in developing a culture of grant-seeking that leveraged talents across the university systems.  Instead, at the university level, panelists identified a tendency towards repetitive and beggaring grant-seeking and initiative generation whereby several institutions at once seek the same grant and/or to found similar programs at the expense of others.  And at the level of the governor's office, the legislature, and other centers of policymaking panelists noted that while some individual initiatives, such as the idea of promoting CNG use in the state motor pool, were laudable, there has been an absence of any concerted effort to provide a policy framework in which producers, distributors, and innovators in the energy sector could work cooperatively.  Finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, the panelists and the audience agreed that one way forward in terms of creating a viable policy framework would be to focus on regional agreements.  In this way it would be possible to avoid the problems that competitive lobbying brings at the federal level and the problem at the state level of perhaps too much policy specificity.  Hopper Smith of Devon Energy Corporation made the very innovative proposal that policymakers might consider the use of interstate compacts such as those that govern water rights in the region of the Southwest.  These sorts of agreements can be tailored to regional needs, but also impose constraints in the form of legislation and guidance on all participants in the energy sector and energy markets.  All in all, then, a fruitful edition of the CU Public Policy Forum, which we think you will see for yourselves as you review the presentations below.  Enjoy!

Mark Meo, "Oklahoma’s Green Energy Future-
What We Should (or Could) Do About Science, Technology, Policy & Innovation "
Susan Postawko, "Why wind?  An overview of the recent past, present, and future of wind power development "
Hopper Smith, “Human Creativity and the Shale Revolution:  Will Hydro-carbons Continue to Play a Role in Oklahoma’s Energy Future?" Tony Wohlers, "Energy Resources in Oklahoma: The Policy Environment"

How am I involved in energy policy?

Even if you may not think you are involved, you are!  If you use energy, its production, sale, and distribution concern you whether you know it or not.  With policy-making in this area promising to be central to the future of Southwest Oklahoma and statewide, being informed can only help as you make decisions for yourself, your family, and your community about what sort of energy future you want to live in.

Do I have a role in the debate?

Unquestionably.  As you can see from the remarks above, members of the audience not only helped shape the debate at the forum, but contributed important insights.  Now that the forum is over, we have made available the presentations by experts in various academic fields as well as by representatives of the industries that make up the energy sector.  This means that you are now able to make use of these presentations to formulate your own questions and approaches to the issue so that when the time comes for you to help make choices on energy policy, you will be in a position to do so.  In short, never doubt that your curiosity is an important part of the mix, and when the next opportunity comes for you to speak with a policymaker such as your legislator, take that opportunity knowing that you have informed yourself on the issues.

Why Revisit the theme of Energy?

Simply put, the energy landscape in Oklahoma has drastically changed since the CU Public Policy forum last engaged with it, and the reason for this change can be summed up in two words: hydraulic fracturing.  Residents of Oklahoma City may perhaps have seen this encapsulated in a recent ad campaign that lists hydraulic fracturing as a technology rivaling the internet for transformative capacity.  As many in the state and the region know, the state of Oklahoma has been at the forefront of hydraulic fracturing since its infancy. In fact, the first two commercial applications of hydraulic fracturing occurred in Stephens County, Oklahoma and Archer County, Texas in 1949.

Research shows that natural gas production from hydrocarbon-rich shale formations is the leading trend in onshore natural gas production in the United States. Previously cost prohibitive, shale gas extraction via fracturing has unlocked vast reserves. Through high-pressure injections of water, sand, and chemicals deep underground to break up shale formations and release trapped natural gas, more than 1 million wells have been fractured over the past 60 years throughout the United States.

Of the hundreds of active gas drilling wells using hydraulic fracturing, many are found in Oklahoma.  Moreover, current activities in the central and northwestern part of the state indicate that the incidence of this method of drilling will continue to rise, especially considering the economic benefits that it has produced in the region.

Yet concerns have been raised throughout the country and the state. These range from environmental pollution, habitat degradation, and groundwater contamination to diminishing air quality and the occurrences of earthquakes. Though equally important, these concerns can and must be addressed within the broader context of the state's economic future; the economic impact of the natural gas boom is hard to deny.  

Further complicating  the picture are the range of alternative energy resources that continue to shape the nation's energy possibilities.  Within the state, for example, wind power has also proceeded apace, and national debates on energy have revealed that states as diverse as Iowa and Wyoming have an interest in wind power.

And although this session of the CU Public Policy Forum cannot address it, shale oil and tar sands oil have also become prominent in our national and regional energy conversation.

With all this afoot, it seemed best to convene the next session of the CU Public Policy Forum with en eye towards grappling with some of this complexity.

Key questions

Participants in the forum will address three inter-related questions on the history of energy provision in Oklahoma, the role of legacy fuels such as natural gas, and the place of alternative energy in the Oklahoma's energy landscape.  The program is therefore divided into three basic segments to capture the historical-cultural dimension, perceptions of the private sector, and cross-disciplinary/sectoral insights.  In the first part of the program humanities scholars from History and Political Science will examine the critical connections across society, policy, and energy provision in light of the recent trends in hydraulic fracturing in  Oklahoma.  In doing so, they will link the particular historical profile of energy solutions characteristic of Oklahoma as a whole and Oklahoma in particular to specific energy sectors, showing how energy provision strategies have operated and how they might operate in the future. Finally, experts from the private energy sector in Oklahoma (natural gas and wind) will discuss the practicalities of moving from the energy present in Oklahoma to its energy future.  In providing answers to the following questions, the forum aims to help advance current debate on Oklahoma energy future:

  1. Within the context of Oklahoma's cultural, historical, and economic characteristics, how feasible is it to entertain replacing oil, gas, and coal in the near future and how can debates over this issue be conducted in a manner that leads towards a unified energy strategy for the state?
  2. Can regions like Oklahoma, long a beneficiary of its close relationship with the energy sector, profitably promote the use of so-called green energy in the midst of a legacy energy boom and, if so, why should they?

  3. Does the prospect of green energy spell the ultimate end of the energy industry as people in Oklahoma have known it and thus mean changing the culture of the state or can the two sectors actually complement one another?

Who is Involved?


Affiliation Position Expertise
Mark Meo Oklahoma Renewable Energy Council Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy Environmental Policy Analysis
Susan Postawko University of Oklahoma Associate Professor Atmosphere Interactions and Cimate
Hopper Smith Devon Energy Corporation Director of Public Affairs Natural Gas Within the Context of Oklahoma's Energy Mix
Tony Wohlers Cameron University Associate Professor of Political Science Alternative Energy Policies in Oklahoma

registration AND QUESTIONS

For forum registration, please click here and follow the steps.


For questions, please contact:
Dr. Tony Wohlers, Forum Organizer
Tel: (580) 581-2496
Fax: (580) 581-2941 


Dr. Douglas Catterall, Speaker Coordinator
Tel: (580) 581-2949
Fax: (580) 581-2941


We thank the Cameron University Lectures and Concerts Program for funding of this Public Policy Forum.

                                      Cameron University

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