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Drilling, Sen. Marlatt and SB 809

From the ENE ongoing investigation: Who's at fault? series
  • 4 min to read
Earthquakes in Oklahoma

ENID, Okla. — An oil well sits just off North Oakwood by Glenwood Elementary School in the city.

Earlier this year, Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation that would allow oil and gas well sites to stay within city limits.

Senate Bill 809 allows municipalities to set regulations on oil and gas exploration as long as such regulations are “reasonable ordinances.” Muni­cipalities are not allowed to ban oil and drilling exploration under the law.

SCROLL TO BOTTOM of story for interactive map of Oklahoma's injection wells and earthquakes and a history of campaign contributions and employee numbers regarding energy industry.

More stories this week

Who's at Fault: How the state’s stance linking injection wells and seismicity changed 

• OGS to USGS: Scientist moves amid increased activity


According to Okla­homa State Statute, the bill repealed a 1935 law that stated, “Nothing in this act is intended to limit or restrict the rights of cities and towns governmental corporate powers to prevent oil or gas drilling therein nor under its police powers to provide its own rules and regulations with reference to well-spacing units or drilling or production which they may have at this time under the general laws of the State of Oklahoma.”

The legislation was brought during a time Oklahoma is expected to experience more than 900 earthquakes this year, according to U.S. Geological Survey.

Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, said the legislation was bad timing.

“Some of the legislation brought forward last year was particularly insensitive to the state’s changing position on the correlation between injection wells and seismic activity and the plights of those districts, like House District 31, who is facing these on a day-to-day basis,” Murphey said.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, said he came at the issue from the property owners’ standpoint.

“If you ban drilling, you take away the right of the property owner,” Hickman said. “Mineral interest is property, and when you ban drilling, you take away that person’s right to collect mineral rights on their property.”

Hickman said there is never a right or wrong time to suggest topics for legislation.

“When you have places talking about taking away private property rights, it’s an issue the Legislature has to deal with,” Hickman said.

Hickman is referencing Norman and Stillwater. Both municipalities have attempted to ban oil and gas exploration within city limits.

Lawyers for the cities of Norman and Stillwater, along with the Oklahoma Municipal League, were invited to discussions on SB 809.

“I felt like it was important to hear their perspective and work out the best-case scenario,” Hickman said. “That’s what we do in Oklahoma. We try to bring people in to the table. Let’s get what’s best for the state even if they are not 100 percent pleased.”

Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, said the bill began because of a different situation: Stillwater has an oil rig on the backside of a very well-established neighborhood.

“They chose to put it right there, and they could have put it anywhere,” Williams said. “That is what started the process. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission said there was nothing they could do and to call the city commission.”

And that’s what happened: Several people called the commissioners, different grassroots organizations were formed and Stillwater began fighting the rig’s location.

Three representatives have requested an opinion about SB 809 from the attorney general, according to Aaron Cooper with the AG’s office. Cooper does not know when the opinion will be ready.

The bill was authored by: Sen. Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa; Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward; Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa; Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City; Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee; Hickman; and Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore.

Bingman currently works for Uplands Resources Inc. in Tulsa as vice president of land and operations. The company deals with the oil and gas energy sector.

Marlatt is employed by the oil and gas industry, according to He is the Senate Energy Committee chair and also serves on the governor’s Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity.

Bingman said he appointed Marlatt to the council because of his experience.

“I appointed Senator Marlatt to the Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity for two principal reasons: First, as the chair of the Senate Energy Committee, Sen. Marlatt needs to be informed and aware of the latest data regarding seismic activity and any possible correlation to oil and gas production,” Bingman said in an email. “Secondly, Senator Marlatt’s comprehensive understanding of the oil and gas production process makes him a valuable voice in any discussion relating to drilling.”

Bingman said the appointment was no different than others.

“Appointing Senator Marlatt to this Council is no different than if I were to appoint a doctor to a committee to examine a health care issue, an attorney to examine a legal issue, or an educator to examine an education issue,” Bingman said. “As always, we want to utilize the technical expertise of our members to find the best possible approach to the issues we face as a state.”

In 2013, Marlatt was named Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association legislator of the year.

“Statewide, the energy industry is directly responsible for one in six jobs,” said Marlatt that year in a written statement. “It’s certainly a vital part of Western Oklahoma’s economy. I have great respect for the OIPA and for the work they do on behalf of producers and service companies throughout Oklahoma. I’m honored to receive this award, and I look forward to continuing to work beside the OIPA on behalf of the energy industry.”

Hickman runs his family farm and owns mineral rights.

“I have half interest in 80 acres, so basically 40 acres, and it does not generate a great deal of income,” Hickman said. “The farm Dad and I bought together. It’s very minimal in regards to what most people own.”

When co-authoring SB 809, Marlatt worked for Power Rig LLC and was co-owner in Mid-Continent Conductor.

Marlatt could not be reached for comment.

That same year in 2013, Marlatt accepted $3,250 in campaign contributions specifically from oil and gas companies or associated individuals, records show.

Since 2011, records show Marlatt has accepted $37,200 in campaign contributions from oil and gas entities. That averages more than $7,500 per year.

In 2011, 2012 and 2013, Harold Hamm, president and CEO of Continental Resources, personally contributed to his campaign.

In comparison, Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, had a total of $11,450 campaign contributions from oil and gas entities since 2011. Records show Anderson received $2,500 from Hamm’s ex-wife, Sue Ann Arnall.

Legislators are required to report their campaign contributions quarterly.

While Hickman and Williams said campaign contribution money does not impact their decisions, Rep. Murphey said that’s not true.

“It’s one of the greatest lies lawmakers tend to tell is that relationship (between lobbyist and legislator), particularly that campaign contributions don’t make a difference,” Murphey said. “I would tell you they absolutely do.”

Murphey does not accept gifts or campaign contributions from lobbyists.

“Because I do not have to worry about campaign contributions, that has enabled me to speak about it publicly,” Murphey said.