Oklahoma may be first state to use nitrogen in executions amid lethal injection controversy

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma officials announced a plan to use nitrogen gas to execute inmates once the state resumes using the death penalty, marking the first time a U.S. state would use the gas to carry out capital punishment. State Attorney General Mike Hunter and Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh made the announcement Wednesday. 

Oklahoma and other states haven't been able to get the drugs required for lethal injections amid opposition from drugmakers to having their products used in executions. 

Okla. executions on hold after lethal injection goes wrong

Hunter and Allbaugh announced that the state will move forward with executions by method of "inert gas inhalation," reports CBS affiliate KWTV.

Gov. Mary Fallin in 2015 signed a measure adding gas to the state's execution method, reports Tulsa World. If approved, gas inhalation would reportedly be the state's primary execution method.

Hunter said using nitrogen is the best way for Oklahoma to resume executions. 

"We can no longer sit on the sidelines and wait to find drugs," Hunter said Wednesday, reports the World.

Oklahoma has had one of the busiest death chambers in the U.S., but hasn't carried out an execution since 2015 after a series of mishaps, including a botched lethal injection in 2014 that left an inmate writhing on the gurney. In 2015, another inmate who was executed was injected with a drug that was not part of the state's approved procedures, the World reports.

It's not yet clear when executions would resume. Hunter said implementation could take three to four months, reports KWTV, on top of another 150-day waiting period for federal review. 

Earlier this month, the South Carolina Senate voted 26-12 to allow the use of the electric chair when execution drugs are not available. A bill that would make the electric chair the state's default execution method is now before the House Committee on the Judiciary.

South Carolina's execution drugs expired in 2013, and the state has been unable to get more from pharmaceutical companies, which are worried about legal challenges, protests and bad publicity.