Are seismologists in Oklahoma being pressured to play down the connection between fracking and the state’s recent uptick in earthquakes?
All of a sudden Oklahoma is one of the most earthquake-prone areas in the country. Last year, with a grand total of 585 earthquakes, Oklahoma far surpassed the notoriously seismic State of California. Seismologists postulate that disposal wells are to blame. Water and brine injected underground at enormous pressure can cause faults to slip, triggering an earthquake.
EnergyWire reported on March 3 that Oklahoma regulators made that connection years ago, but have maintained silence in public due to industry pressure. According to secret emails obtained by EnergyWire, one seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey came out in 2013 and said that there was in fact a link between seismic activity in Oklahoma and drilling operations, quickly earning him a meeting with superiors and industry leaders who were “concerned” about his comments. Afterwards, the seismologist, Austin Holland, began changing his stance on the cause of earthquakes.
Intriguingly, in one specific instance, Holland was called in to meet with his boss, University of Oklahoma’s President David Boren, and the CEO of Continental Resources, Harold Hamm. Continental is a major oil and gas producer in the state and Hamm and Boren have close ties. Boren serves on Continental Resources’ board and Hamm is a major donor to the university. The Harold Hamm Oklahoma Diabetes Center bears his name after a $20 million donation.
Since then Holland has played down the link between earthquakes and disposal wells, instead pointing to natural causes. Those conclusions run counter to what federal seismologists have found.
“This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central United States, is not the result of natural processes,” USGS stated recently. “Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.”
Hamm was shocked that the press saw a problematic connection between his meeting with Holland and the Oklahoma Geological Survey’s reluctance to connect the dots with earthquakes. “The insinuation that there was something untoward that occurred in meetings with Austin Holland is both offensive and inaccurate,” Hamm said in a March 6 email to The Oklahoman.
When reporters asked about industry influence on the science, Holland declined to discuss. “I can’t really talk about it,” Holland said earlier this year. “We’re going to do the right thing.” But he supposedly let his guard down to petroleum geologist Bob Jackman at a conference. When Jackman pushed him on the earthquake link, Hollandresponded, “You don’t understand – Harold Hamm and others will not allow me to say certain things.” By Charles Kennedy, Oilprice.com
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