Opponents of hydraulic fracturing have been blaming the process for the upsurge in earthquakes in this state in recent years, and there’s very likely something to that, though obviously more research needs to be done, if only to figure why out it’s happening so much more here than it is elsewhere: are Oklahoma oil and gas operators doing something different? Is something in the fault-line pattern contributing to these incidents? A lot of factors merit consideration, and the Oklahoma Geological Survey in general, and State Seismologist Austin Holland in particular, have been strangely silent on the matter.
In October 2013, OGS joined the U.S. Geological Survey in issuing a statement about Oklahoma’s growing earthquake risk and possible links to oil and gas industry disposal wells. A week later, Holland was “summoned” to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for a meeting with Jack Stark — then a senior vice president of exploration, now president and chief operating officer at Continental Resources — and then-Commissioner Patrice Douglas. Mike Soraghan of Energy Wire [behind paywall] reports:
“Douglas and the Continental executive were ‘concerned’ about the joint statement with USGS and a story about it by EnergyWire, Holland recounted later in an email.
“At the time, Douglas was about to run for Congress. She got more campaign money from Continental executives in 2014 than anyone except Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and the Republican National Committee, according to OpenSecrets.org. The $14,775 she received from Continental includes $6,575 from Hamm, who did not contribute to her Republican primary opponent, Steve Russell. Russell beat Douglas in the primary and is now a congressman.
“In the meeting, Douglas said she ‘wants to, of course, protect the safety of Oklahomans, but also balance that with industry in the state,’ according to Holland’s email.”
One meeting may mean nothing. But two?
After the OGS “cautiously” agreed with scientists about links between disposal wells and earthquakes, Holland in November 2013 was called into a meeting with University of Oklahoma President David Boren and oil executives, including Continental Resources Chairman Harold Hamm, “a leading donor to the university.” Boren also serves on Continental’s board of directors, where, in 2013, “he received $272,700 in cash and stock for his service,” Soraghan reports.
This is not to say that OGS presents a united front:
In April 2013, another OGS scientist, petroleum geologist Richard Andrews, said in a note to a family member on his agency email account that OGS shouldn’t be telling the public that the earthquakes are naturally occurring.
“Myself and a few other geologists that know of the Hunton dewatering oil operations in the affected areas and subsequent re-injection into the Arbuckle [are] the culprit,” wrote Andrews, who is now the interim director of OGS. “I am dismayed at our seismic people about this issue and believe they couldn’t track a bunny through fresh snow!”
You might want to ask the Bunny Protection League about that, Dr. Andrews.