KGOU

Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer

Piles of crushed limestone along railroad tracks near Mill Creek, Okla.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma County District Judge Barbara Swinton on Wednesday ordered the long disputed limits on how much water can be taken from one of the state’s most sensitive aquifers — the Arbuckle-Simpson in south-central Oklahoma — to go forward.

The court was hearing an appeal of the limit from groups including the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, Oklahoma Aggregates Association, and mining company TXI — all petitioners in the case.

An active aggregate mining operation near Mill Creek, Okla.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

South-central Oklahoma — where the sensitive Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer provides water for thousands of Oklahomans — is home to some of the highest quality limestone in the country, and the ground holds vast supplies of the silica sand used by the oil and gas industry in the hydraulic fracturing process.

State Rep. Charles McCall (R-Atoka)
Provided / Oklahoma House of Representatives

Representative Charles McCall’s bill to allow counties to impose a tax on sand and limestone mining operations that sell their product elsewhere didn’t make it through the full House by the March 14 deadline.

But McCall, R-Atoka, says he will try again next year.

U.S. Silica's sand processing plant north of Mill Creek, Okla.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Some landowners frustrated by the expansion of mining in south-central Oklahoma — particularly in the sensitive Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer — hope a slight change to the state’s mining law will make a major difference in the public’s ability to go up against large sand and limestone mining companies.

Johnston County Landowner Clyde Runyon just outside a limestone mining operation near Mill Creek, Okla.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Limestone and sand miners are getting a lot of attention lately. The amount of groundwater they can displace from the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer was recently capped, and the state House could authorize a new tax on the industry.

An active aggregate mining operation near Mill Creek, Okla.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

This isn’t the first legislative session some Oklahoma lawmakers are pushing for a severance tax for mining limestone and sand, but it’s the first time the idea has gotten this far.

On Monday, the House Appropriations and Budget Committee passed HB1876, which would allow up to a five percent tax on the production of limestone, sand, and other aggregates. It now moves to the full House for consideration.

A gate into a silica sand mining operation near Mill Creek in south-central Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

When Oklahomans apply for a permit from most state agencies to, say, dam a river or build a wind farm, formal public hearings are held before the permit is issued, where evidence is presented, concerns are voiced, and legally binding decisions are made.

Piles of crushed limestone along railroad tracks near Mill Creek, Okla.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Last week, StateImpact reported on what the passage of State Question 640 in 1992 did to tax policy in Oklahoma.

“You need to have a supermajority in the House and the Senate and the governor has to sign it,” Alexander Holmes, a Regent’s Professor of Economics at the University of Oklahoma, said. “I’m still betting that if you reduce the taxes, you can never make them go up again.”

Logan Layden talks with Kiowa historian 'Joe Fish' DuPoint about the potential impact of limestone mining on Longhorn Mountain in August 2013.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The StateImpact team traveled about 10,000 miles in 2013 to interview Oklahomans about how government policy affects their lives.

Our reporting took us to all corners of Oklahoma, across the border into Texas, and to the nation’s capital and the U.S. Supreme Court.


Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Supporters let out a big cheer Wednesday after the Oklahoma Water Resources Board voted to cap the amount of water that can be taken from the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, the source of drinking water for communities across a large area of south-central Oklahoma.

The decision was 10 years in the making, and came about — in part — because some landowners were concerned that limestone and sand mining was draining the aquifer too quickly.