Losing campaigns usually do one of two things: they recognize reality and call it quits, or they explore creative ways to attack their opponents. If they’re going down, then by golly, the other guy is too!
Meet the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a “think tank” in Tulsa, Okla., that has been trying for years to raise taxes on oil and natural gas production in the Sooner State. Their logic – if you can call it that – is that hiking taxes on oil and gas production by 250 percent (from 2 percent to 7 percent) won’t impact drilling at all, and thus it will raise a boatload of new revenue to fix Oklahoma’s budget deficit (which is actually a spending problem, but never mind that).
You’re probably asking a good question: If higher taxes won’t affect drilling activity, then why not raise taxes even more? Heck, why not raise taxes to 50 percent? Or even 100 percent? Imagine the revenue possibilities!
Of course, this is completely bonkers. It’s basic economics that if you want less of something, you tax it.
Needless to say, OPI’s campaign hasn’t been doing well. When Reuters parroted OPI’s claims last year, the state’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, called it “revisionist history.” The newspaper added that it was “based on flawed assumptions, faulty or even bogus data and magical thinking.” Ouch.
Facing these headwinds, OPI has chosen an interesting new approach: spread fake news about fracking.
OPI’s daily newsletter, ironically called “In The Know,” included a blurb this week claiming water contamination from fracking in Oklahoma. “Oklahoma Drinking Water Poisoned By Fracking, Claims New Report” reads the header from OPI (that’s also the headline used by the anti-fossil fuel website Clean Technica, to which OPI links).
Yes, yes… we know. How can anyone keep claiming such a thing? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked and answered that whole fracking-has-not-led-to-widespread-water-contamination debate.
But this is actually kind of worse. The report OPI cites – authored by Clean Water Action, not “Clean Water Fund” as OPI claims – wasn’t even looking at fracking; it was looking at wastewater disposal, which is an entirely different process.
And here’s the real kicker: The Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC), which regulates oil and natural gas production in the state, met with the activists who wrote the silly report – before it was published – and told them they were wrong. The wells Clean Water Action had supposedly identified as injecting into drinking water sources were not doing so. “We told them their study was based on old data but they went head and released their study anyway apparently,” said a spokesman for OCC.
So OPI did not just share a dubious claim about fracking. It did so with a report that the authors knew was completely bogus. That’s probably why OPI had to link to a site like Clean Technica instead of a newspaper article (the Clean Technica article even cites its source as Think Progress, a left-wing blog in Washington, DC). Any credible journalist would take one look at the Clean Water Action report and laugh.
It’s hard to see how a credibility hit like this will improve OPI’s chances of raising taxes on the oil and natural gas industry, which already pays 22 percent of total state taxes and supports one out of every five Oklahoma jobs.
OPI clearly wants to revive its fledgling campaign, which is understandable. But disseminating fake news from fringe websites is hardly the path to a successful reboot.