Gov. Mary Fallin proclaimed October 13, 2016 as “Oilfield Prayer Day,” as she called on all Christians to “thank God for the blessings created by the oil and natural gas industry.” As the Washington Post reported, Gov. Fallin changed her proclamation to welcome all believers to join Oklahoma in recognizing “the incredible economic, community and faith-based impacts demonstrated across the state by oil and natural gas companies.”
This year, Native American leader Ashley Nicole McCray voiced dissatisfaction with Fallin’s change in the proclamation on “what should’ve been Indigenous People’s Day.” McCray and other activists say that the oil industry is actually preying on Oklahoma.
Fallin wasn’t alone in praying for fossil fuel industries. The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma oilpatch chaplain “conceived the idea of Praying for the Patch, which is ‘a biblically-based plan to meet the spiritual needs of both the oilfield and faith communities.’”
However, Rev. Lori Walke responded to the 2016 call to prayer, writing in Non Doc, “As an ordained Christian minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I just can’t.”
Rev. Walke noted that Fallin “invited us to, ‘thank God for the blessings created by the oil and natural gas industry and to seek His [sic] wisdom and ask for protection.’” Then she recalled the other blessings that Fallin and her Republican majority have already bestowed on oil companies. Walke reminded Oklahomans of:
$400 million in tax breaks to oil and gas producers per year, $18.1 million in rebates for other forms of production and $188.6 million in deferred rebates. Despite this corporate welfare, oil and gas companies are firing our friends and family left and right, while giving million dollar bonuses to top executives.
Rev. Walke also explained, “All of those tax breaks and tax credits have had a traumatic effect on tax revenue, resulting in devastating cuts to public education and services.” She closed with a reminder that the governor should not assume that God is a male, and affirming, “while you pray for our oil fields, I’ll be praying for you.”
So, what happened on Oilfield Prayer Day: Year Two?
If anything, this crisis has worsened in 2017, and now the legislative special session is deadlocked and failing to deal with a shortfall that could produce $500 million in additional budget cuts. But, former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn and former governor Frank Keating recently urged their Republican colleagues to emulate Ronald Reagan and “reject all tax increases and efforts to generate more revenue during times like these.” The Oklahoma Oil & Gas Association and the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association complain that the oil and gas industry is being “punished by the state.”
As explained by PBS’s Frontline, this time last year, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was the de facto “commander-in-chief” in a “strike force” of A.G.s, funded by the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel businessmen, attacking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Now, Pruitt heads the E.P.A.
This year, a protest at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission was filmed by Vice News. An organizer said, “Our government is so deeply tied and intrinsically connected to Big Oil, that they are asking us to pray for the thing that is destroying our land, our water, our air and our communities.”
Subsequent speakers made the case that it is our devastated environment that deserves prayers. Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony agreed that Oklahoma’s Tar Creek Superfund site, a legacy of lead and zinc mining, was one of the nation’s worst environmental catastrophes. He also said that the Corporation Commission did not have power over the routing of fuel pipelines. This is especially worrisome because the crossroads of vulnerable pipelines lies near the earthquakes that are caused by water disposal from fracking.
Another earthquake hit Oklahoma on prayer day. It was the 15th in the thirteen days of October.
Native Americans were especially vivid in describing the harm caused by coal mine pollution in Little Dixie. A black person from the Seminole Nation recalled the pollution in the predominantly African-American part of northeast Oklahoma City. A Sierra Club leader recounted the growing list of lakes with mercury poisoning.
Oklahomans should be thankful that Oklahoma is third in the nation in wind generation of electricity, as we pray that the Oklahoma Republicans and Scott Pruitt won’t succeed in undermining that clean, job-producing source of energy. We must also pray that corporate resistance to solar power can be defeated in our state.
Perhaps we should pray that Gov. Fallin will see the ridicule that has been poured on Oklahoma due to the oilfield prayer day stunt. Perhaps corporate leaders will realize that acting like adults and protecting the earth is good business, as well as morally and spiritually uplifting.