fact check of the Corporation Commission debate
Sen. Kim David, Justin Hornbackformer, Harold Spradling and former Rep. Todd Thomsen (R-Ada), Harold Spradling and Justin Hornback, who are running for the Corporation Commission, participate in a debate on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Michael Duncan)

(Editor’s note: This post was produced in partnership with the Oklahoma nonprofit newsroom The Frontier.)

Republican candidates for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission sparred on issues ranging from utility prices to the McGirt U.S. Supreme Court decision during a debate hosted by NonDoc and News 9 on Tuesday, June 7, at the OSU Hamm Institute for American Energy.

Candidates Sen. Kim David (R-Porter), former Rep. Todd Thomsen (R-Ada), Harold Spradling and Justin Hornback will compete in the June 28 Republican primary.

Afterward, The Frontier used public records and official reports from government sources, news reports and interviews to do a fact check of the Corporation Commission debate regarding some of the candidates’ claims.

You can also read NonDoc’s recap of the debate, or watch the whole thing.

Claim: ​​Energy price spikes during the 2021 winter storms were caused by a lack of wind and solar power generation.

Source: David said, “The biggest problem that we had with the winter storm was the cheapest power that’s possible, wind and solar, weren’t available. The wind turbines were frozen. There was no solar because of the weather.”

Thomsen said,  “We didn’t have wind, we didn’t have solar. Thankfully, we had some coal and to be able to help mitigate and help alleviate some of the real serious potential problems like they saw in Texas.”

Fact check: Mixed

It’s true that energy from wind was diminished owing to frozen turbines during the storm, but natural gas prices during the storm spiked at least in part because of increased demand. Utilities were forced to purchase additional fuel on the spot market as prices rose to unprecedented levels. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Richard Glick also said in March that the agency has found preliminary evidence of market manipulation of natural gas prices during the storm.

Also, wind was not the only energy source knocked out by the storm. A report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Reliability Corporation found that natural gas generators made up the majority, or 58 percent of unplanned outages, derates or failures during the storm. Wind made up 27 percent and solar made up just 2 percent.

— Brianna Bailey

Claim: The blackouts in Texas during February 2021 Winter Storm Uri caused thousands of deaths and the situation was worse in Texas than in Oklahoma because Texas gas wells and power plants lack winterization.

Source:  David said, “During the winter storm of 2021, when you started having some rolling brownouts here, some rolling blackouts here, we did a really good job in Oklahoma ensuring that we didn’t have any loss of life here. In Texas, thousands of people died because their infrastructure wasn’t winterized, they weren’t up to speed. You have to take all those things into account.”

Fact check: Mixed.

Texas puts the official death toll from Winter Storm Uri at 246, but the number is disputed, with some estimates putting the actual death toll at four to five times that amount. Like Texas, Oklahoma did not have requirements to winterize natural gas wells, pipelines and other energy infrastructure, which led to numerous freeze-offs in both states, exacerbating both the electrical and natural gas supply and price issues. Texas has since passed legislation requiring at least some form of winterization, but Oklahoma still does not have any mandates.

Oklahoma actually experienced a greater percentage decline in natural gas production in February 2021 than Texas did, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, So why didn’t Oklahoma experience as severe blackouts and loss of life as Texas during the storm? Unlike Texas, Oklahoma is part of the Eastern Interconnection power grid, which covers most of the states east of the Rocky Mountains, except for most of Texas. Within that grid, Oklahoma is also a member state of the Southwest Power Pool, which allowed power plants in other states to sell electricity to customers in Oklahoma in order to make up the difference in electrical generation during the deep freeze. In extreme cases, the Southwest Power Pool can also draw electricity from wholesale power markets outside of its own area. Most of Texas’s power grid is intentionally isolated from other grids, in part to prevent federal regulation by sending electricity over state lines.

— Clifton Adcock 

Claim: Candidates David and Thomsen have not signed an anti-corruption pledge that includes a promise to disclose donors.

Source: Hornback said, “I’d also like to challenge you guys to sign an anti-corruption pledge to be forthcoming with your donations and be willing to share that with the Oklahoma people.”

Fact check: Mixed

It’s true that David and Thomsen have not signed an anti-corruption pledge from the group Clean Up Oklahoma. Hornback and Spradling have signed the pledge.

But the pledge doesn’t call for a promise to disclose campaign donors, which is already required by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. The pledge does call for candidates to support creating a “publicly financed campaign system that gives state candidates the option to run clean without relying on big-dollar campaign contributions,” as well as strengthening the state’s open records laws, requiring politicians to disclose their tax returns and prohibiting former elected officials from lobbying for two years after leaving a government job.

“Voters deserve to know who’s willing to clean up the mess in state government and who’s not, and that’s especially true for corporation commissioners who oversee our utility rates,” said Jay Williams, campaign manager for Clean Up Oklahoma. “If a politician refuses to sign an anti-corruption pledge, it should raise serious concerns for any voter.”

— Kayla Branch

Claim: A tribe is trying to take over regulating gravel and other kinds of mining in Oklahoma after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma.

Source: Spradling said, “I know one of the tribes is already trying to get gravel and other things under the ground.”

Fact check: Mostly False

The McGirt ruling has affected mining regulation in Eastern Oklahoma, but not in the way Spradling claimed. Oklahoma lost jurisdiction over surface mining on tribal lands to the federal government following the ruling. However, The Frontier could find no evidence of tribal efforts to regulate mining.

Suzen Rodesney, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Mines, said she “has not received any correspondence or had any discussions regarding tribal nations taking over regulation of mining.” She also noted that the agency would be aware if this were occuring.

Representatives from the Cherokee Nation and the Muscogee Nation both said they were unaware of any efforts to take over regulation of gravel mining.

— Garrett Yalch 

Rating system: 

  • True: A claim that is backed up by factual evidence
  • Mostly True: A claim that is mostly true but also contains some inaccurate details
  • Mixed: A claim that contains a combination of accurate and inaccurate or unproven information
  • True but misleading: A claim that is factually true but omits critical details or context
  • Mostly False: A claim that is mostly false but also contains some accurate details
  • False: A claim that has no basis in fact