By Jack Money
Oklahoma is the third-most disaster prone state in the nation.
That comes from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, based on the number of declarations it has issued for the state over the years.
Many of the state’s disasters have affected the ability of businesses and local, county and state officials to consistently provide energy to residents.
To help deal with that issue, state leaders created an energy assurance plan in 2013.
The plan was updated annually through 2016, but hasn’t been changed since.
On Jan. 31, state officials awarded a $175,000 contract to the University of Oklahoma to work with various stakeholders to update the plan.
Most of those dollars are being provided through a grant to the state made by the federal government’s Department of Energy.
But some of the money also is coming from Oklahoma’s State Energy Office, overseen by Kenneth Wagner, Oklahoma’s Secretary of Energy and Environment.
“Each year, Oklahoma faces a variety of energy disruptions,” the plan’s 2016 version states. “Most of these are limited in scope, but some extend over wider areas, impact large segments of the population or can last for long periods, threatening the life, health and welfare of Oklahoma residents and creating energy emergencies that are complex.”
In 2016, the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Risk and Crisis Management detailed there were 173 unique energy-related emergencies that happened in Oklahoma between January 2011 and December 2015.
Incidents involving the loss of electricity were the most prevalent by far, making up 63 percent of the events.
Oil and natural gas incidents accounted for the remaining 14 percent and 23 percent of the emergency events, respectively.
Since 2016, Oklahoma’s population has climbed to 3.9 million residents, and the plan aims to identify ways energy services could be interrupted and how businesses and local, county and state officials should work together to address those interruptions.
More specifically, it is designed to help officials categorize energy emergencies by type and severity and to provide a framework on how to respond. It also assesses the state’s energy vulnerabilities involving infrastructure and interdependencies between players.
It is Oklahoma’s duty to plan for such emergencies to ensure the safety and well-being of its citizens, Wagner said.
“We want our citizens to be able to expect they can have power or heat, regardless of what type of man-made or weather-related disaster has happened,” Wagner said.
Wagner said last year’s flooding along the Arkansas River is a perfect example of the types of events Oklahoma needs to be prepared for.
Dramatic changes in water levels on the river forced OG&E to idle a power producing plant near Muskogee for a time, he said.
An influencing factor on how to respond to those events, he said, is how the power that’s involved is generated and distributed.
The 2016 report noted that Okahomans consumed 336.1 trillion British thermal units of energy generated by coal in 2014. But in 2017, that amount had dropped to about 198 trillion Btu, while the amount of renewable power consumed by Oklahoman’s climbed over those three years.
Another significant part of the project, he said, involves continued conversations that need to happen between state government partners (like the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management and other agencies), energy providers, and other stakeholders to ensure the action plan continues to provide the information and direction needed by energy planners and responders who will have to deal with the issue in coming years.
“It is just such an important forward look to do the most we can to ensure that Oklahomans have access to power, regardless of the situation,” Wagner said. “And, it also is about how we can boost our resilience to allow us to better respond to those types of events.”