Oklahoma’s Republican governor thinks God put oil in the ground.
Gov. Mary Fallin has declared today as Oilfield Prayer Day. “Oklahoma is blessed with an abundance of oil and natural gas, Christians acknowledge such natural resources are created by God,” states an executive proclamation she made. Fallin will read her proclamation at a prayer breakfast organized by the Oil Patch Chaplains in order to thank fossil-fuel companies for their religious contributions to Oklahoma.
“Oil and natural-gas companies in Oklahoma have a long history of supporting faith-based ministries as well as civic projects,” said Fallin’s communications director Michael McNutt. Fallin “is not opposed to legitimate requests for divine intervention,” he added.
The first commercial oil well in America was drilled in 1859 in Pennsylvania and a few years later, Christian preachers proclaimed fossil fuels were gift from God delivered at the end of the Civil War.
Americans believed “God hid the oil until we paid for our sins,” said Ken Baake, an associate English professor at Texas Technical University, who studies environmental rhetoric. “That proclamation could come straight out of the 1860s.”
A book Baake showed from a Rev. Eaton written in 1866 sounds like Fallin.
“A terrible struggle was approaching in which the nation’s life should be at stake,” wrote Eaton, “so God opens the store-houses he has prepared against the day of sore trial… fountains of petroleum gush forth in wondrous exuberance.”
This was “part of a larger New Jerusalem, city on a hill narrative” that Americans had cultivated about themselves, said Baake. But, many of the period pieces also warned about “shysters,” which Fallin’s proclamation does not.
“We get the Garden of Eden,” said Baake.
But that comes with the Fall, today in the form of climate change.
In 2011, when Oklahoma faced Dust Bowl-level droughts because of climate change, Fallin asked Oklahomans “to look to a greater power this weekend and ask for rain.”
Of course, Fallin doesn’t believe in manmade climate change. ThinkProgress reported that in 2007, as a congresswoman, Fallin said Americans “need to be more concerned about global warming in the U.S. caused by a nuclear attack.” And as such she refused to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate rules regulating carbon emissions.
“If that’s the type of God you’re worshipping, you’re worshipping a Las Vegas slot machine,” Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and evangelical Christian, said about prayers for rain. You can’t just insert a prayer and hope rain pops out.
Hayhoe thought the prayers hit the wrong target. Injecting wastewater into the earth for hydraulic fracking has caused earthquakes in Oklahoma. Maybe Fallin should pray for those who lost their home in the earthquakes too, Hayhoe suggested. Or for the people killed by fossil-fuel pollution worldwide.
Fallin’s prayers will go unanswered, according to climate models. “Future climate-change projections include more precipitation in the northern Great Plains and less in the southern Great Plains,” according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, which was produced by hundreds of researchers with oversight from federal agencies.
“If we continue on the current fossil-fuel pathway, 2011 will be the average summer by mid-century,” Hayhoe said.
The answer isn’t to pray for oil or rain but to get off fossil fuels.
“Wind and sun and tide also come from God, and they don’t run out on us,” said Hayhoe. These fuels are the real answers to prayers.