Industry Pressure to Silence Scientists in Oklahoma Earthquake Swarms

BY ON March 19, 2015

earthquake graphic

Shortly after my article about the oil and gas industry being linked to the rise in earthquakes in Oklahoma, I was made aware of emails obtained by EnergyWire that showed Oklahoma’s state scientists have suspected a link between oil and gas operations in the state…and the earthquake swarms for years. However, publicly they rejected the connection due to industry pressure.

State seismologist, Austin Holland, when asked about an earthquake swarm in central Oklahoma in 2013, told KWTV News 9 it was difficult to know the cause.

“We know why Oklahoma has earthquakes. It’s responding to these large regional stresses that are much smaller than in California, where you can better measure the deformation on a fault.”

However, in an email to a senior U.S. Geological Survey official Bill Leith, Holland stated (as far back as 2010), Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) officials believed there was a link

“Since early 2010 we have recognized the potential for the Jones earthquake swarm to be due to the Hunton dewatering, but until we can demonstrate that scientifically or not we were not going to discuss that publicly.”

When the OGS did agree with other scientists about the link, Austin Holland was called into a meeting with his boss, University of Oklahoma (OU) President David Boren, and oil executives, including Continental Resources Chairman and major OU donor Harold Hamm.

Holland told EnergyWire that Boren, Hamm and other leaders hadn’t affected his scientific finds or those of OGS.

However, his responses were not consistant. When geologist Bob Jackman pushed Holland on the link, after Holland spoke at Osage Nation’s oil and gas summit on “Recent Oklahoma Earthquakes” last year, he responded, “You don’t understand – Harold Hamm and others will not allow me to say certain things.”

After the exchange, Jackman’s conclusion was that Hamm and others were pressuring officials, including Oklahoma Corporation Commissioners.

“Censoring the state’s Seismologist has prevented public and press from being informed on earthquakes, the true causes of which are petroleum wastewater and saltwater disposal wells. These high-volume wells, byproducts of horizontal drilling and fracking, give birth to homeowners experiencing earthquake bumps and bangs in the night, then awakening to growing interior cracks.”

Hamm has denied any wrongdoing in an email to The Oklahoman:

“The insinuation that there was something untoward that occurred in meetings with Austin Holland is both offensive and inaccurate.” Hamm went on to say, “Austin works for a state agency. Upon its founding, the Oklahoma Geological Survey had a solid reputation of an agency that was accessible and of service to the community and industry in Oklahoma. We hope that the agency can continue the legacy to provide this service.”

In an email to the Tulsa World, Boren called the meeting “purely informational.”

“Mr. Hamm is a very reputable producer and wanted to know if Mr. Holland had found any information which might be helpful to producers in adopting best practices that would help prevent any possible connection between drilling and seismic events,” Boren’s email states. “In addition, he wanted to make sure that the Survey (OGS) had the benefit of research by Continental geologists. We are very sensitive at the University of Oklahoma about any possible interference with academic freedom and scientific inquiry. All of those who participated in the meeting understand that.”

Tulsa World also stated that Holland told them and other media that he has felt pressured by some in the energy industry regarding earthquake research.

Are families in Oklahoma prepared for a spike in earthquakes? We deserve to know the role of oil and gas development in causing earthquakes and what we can do about it.


TOPICS: Fracking, Natural Gas, Oklahoma, Science