Oil & gas execs ‘pressured’ Oklahoma geologists not to reveal fracking-quakes link by Jim Urquhart, March 05, 2015, RT
Newly-obtained emails reveal that Oklahoma geologists were pressured by oil industry big-shots not to push on with their assessments of possible links between earthquakes in the state and hydraulic fracturing industry, most often referred to as fracking.
More than a year since a sharp spike in earthquakes in the region, which coincided with fracking for oil and gas, the Oklahoma Geological Survey say there might be a possible link. The rise resulted in magnitude 3 earthquakes almost twice daily on average – three times as many as in disaster-prone California.
But after the body issued a joint statement with the USGS in October 2013, saying that “activities such as wastewater disposal” could be a “contributing factor to the increase in earthquakes,” oil execs started to panic, according to newly-obtained emails by EnergyWire.
This allegedly led to the OGS avoiding mentioning that the lion’s share of earthquakes in the region was man-made. The silence has lasted since 2010 and was apparently due to pressure not to disclose the findings.
OGS geologist at the University of Oklahoma, Austin Holland, was one of the scientists aware of the link, but earlier did not wish to discuss it for lack of direct scientific proof.
It now turns out he was later being influenced by oil executives with a vested interest in the continuation of fracking in the area, according to the obtained emails.
“Researchers in Oklahoma, notably Austin Holland… have repeatedly said the increase in seismic activity cannot be fully explained by man-made causes,” Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association (OIPA) President Mike Terry said in a 2013 statement, pointing to Holland’s earlier scientific skepticism. That statement coincided with Holland’s research, which found disturbing data from the southern town of Marietta, but stopped short of wholeheartedly acknowledging the fracking and earthquake link.
But when the OGS cautiously joined the USGS assessment in admitting that there was a relationship between fracking and growing seismic risks, Austin Holland was called into meetings with his boss at the university, President David Boren, and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC). He spoke with Jack Stark of the OCC, then also vice president of exploration at Continental Resources. The OCC is the main regulatory body for oil and gas in the state.
Continental Resources Chairman Harold Hamm – the University of Oklahoma’s leading financial donor – started getting really interested in the findings around that time. Hamm, who was Mitt Romney’s energy adviser, is not a believer in the relationship between seismic activity and the oil and gas industry.
The joint statement by OGS/USGS aroused fear in the oil execs, as Holland recounted in one of the emails from 2013.
He was trying to explain to Continental and the OCC that his input only benefited the USGS assessment, but that “Continental does not feel induced seismicity is an issue and they are nervous about any dialog about the subject,” as he wrote to his superiors at the university.
“They are in the denial phase that this is a possibility,” he wrote of the execs.
One of the people also dissatisfied with the Oklahoma geologists partnering up with the USGS was Patrice Doubles, the OCC commissioner. At the time, she was running for Congress and got more campaign funds from Continental than almost any other senator. That included money from Hamm.
As Holland explained in the email, Douglas said that she wished to “of course, protect the safety of Oklahomans, but also balance that with industry in the state.”
Earlier this year, in the Washington Post, Holland did admit that higher-ups were trying to influence his work – specifically, Hamm. In fact, according to a piece by fellow geologist Bob Jackman, Holland told him at the time: “you don’t understand – Harold Hamm and others will not allow me to say certain things.”
Holland later tried to downplay Jackman’s quote to EnergyWire, but Jackman later said he had written down Holland’s confession word for word immediately after the conversation. [Why are regulators and industry making so many frac confessions lately? ]
A few other geologists have spoken out about the relationship between Hunton dewatering operations and a rise in earthquakes in the vicinity of Oklahoma City. They have also been warning that a surge in smaller quakes could increase the likelihood of greater ones.
Unlike other states where fracking is also commonplace, Oklahoma did little in the way of caps or regulations or shutdowns. Instead, reports emerged that state authorities limited such powers to information-gathering missions.
According to EnergeyWire, the view on Oklahoma having fracking-related earthquakes is shared by many academic and federal seismologists.
These new revelations come on the heels of fresh data from Oklahoma that has the US Geological Survey pointing to a clear scientific link between quakes and fracking. [Emphasis added]
Industry Pressure Kept Oklahoma’s Scientists Silent on Earthquake-Fracking Link Since 2010: Report by ZOË SCHLANGER, March 4, 2015, Newsweek
For years, the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) avoided acknowledging that Oklahoma’s dramatic increase in earthquakes had anything to do with the oil and gas industry, even while federal scientists fully acknowledged the link.
According to new reporting from EnergyWire, OGS’s reluctance to point fingers may have been due to the industry itself.
In 2012, U.S. Geological Survey officials said that a step in the hydraulic fracturing process—the disposal of vast volumes of salty, chemical-laced wastewater by injecting it deep into the ground—was related to the massive spike in Oklahoma earthquakes. OGS, however, responded by criticizing their “rush to judgment.”
“Since early 2010 we have recognized the potential for the Jones earthquake swarm to be due to the Hunton dewatering [oil and gas project],” Austin Holland, an OGS seismologist wrote to USGS science adviser Bill Leith in 2013, according to documents obtained by EnergyWire. “But until we can demonstrate that scientifically or not we were not going to discuss that publicly.”
According to EnergyWire, Holland was called into meetings with his boss, University of Oklahoma President David Boren, and oil executives, to discuss the link. Among the oilmen was Continental Resources Chairman Harold Hamm, who was also a leading donor to the university. According to a Tulsa petroleum geologist named Bob Jackmam, Hamm may have had an influence on Holland’s statements on the issue.
Jackman described to EnergyWire a conversation with Holland in which he pressed him regarding Oklahoma’s earthquakes after a conference in September. Jackman said Holland let slip, “You don’t understand—Harold Hamm and others will not allow me to say certain things.”
Holland told EnergyWire that his meetings with Hamm and Boren, the university president, did not affect his scientific work. “We have the academic freedoms necessary for university employees doing research.”
Meanwhile, federal scientists at USGS have been anything but tepid in their assessment of the earthquake-oil industry link. “This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central United States, is not the result of natural processes,” read a USGS statement released last month. “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.”
The rate of recent earthquakes in Oklahoma is a clear deviation from the norm. The state experienced a spike in quakes in 2014 that put it in first-place for most quake-prone state in the country, surpassing California.
Yet the skepticism regarding the science has been pervasive among elected officials in Oklahoma. Lewis Moore, the state representative for the area that includes Jones, the epicenter of Oklahoma’s recent earthquake swarm, recently told Newsweek that he doesn’t believe human activity can cause quakes. “The Earth, and the science of how everything works, is so big. We are so minute,” he said. “For us to think that we have so much to do with these things is almost ludicrous.”
The Oklahoma Supreme Court is set to make a decision about whether or not oil and gas companies can be held liable for damage caused by the quakes. [Emphasis added]
Oklahoma knew fracking caused earthquakes but stayed quiet to appease energy industry by Travis Gettys, March 4, 2015, rawstory
Oklahoma has suspected for years that fracking caused earthquakes, but they stayed quiet about the connection under pressure from the oil industry.
The Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) finally admitted a possible link more than a year ago between oil and gas extraction and the recent outbreak of earthquakes in the state – which last year experienced 1.6 quakes per day of magnitude 3 or greater. That’s three times as many as California.
The OGS joined a U.S. Geological Survey statement in October 2013 that found human activity, including wastewater disposal, could be a “contributing factor” in the surge in earthquakes.
That angered the state seismologist’s boss, University of Oklahoma President David Boren, and oil executives, according to emails obtained by EnergyWire.
Seismologist Austin Holland was called into meetings with Boren, state officials, and energy company executives after joining the statement, the emails showed.
Then-Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas said in the meeting that she “wants to, of course, protect the safety of Oklahomans, but also balance that with industry in the state,” according to Holland’s email.
Holland had been aware of the link since at least 2010, when he told federal officials that quakes near Oklahoma City may have been triggered by gas and oil projects.
However, he declined to publicly discuss the link until it could be demonstrated scientifically and suggested that changes in lake levels may be to blame for the quakes.
Holland said earlier this year that the industry attempted to influence his work, although he denied altering his scientific findings.
But Holland and other OGS scientists publicly played down findings that suggested a link.
Their public skepticism helped industry and elected officials in Oklahoma – where one in six jobs is linked to oil and gas — to dismiss the concerns about fracking and earthquakes.
Other states have ordered wells shut down and imposed strict regulations after earthquakes, but Oklahoma has been reluctant to do that.
Officials there continued to allow wastewater injection near a fault that ruptured in 2011, causing the state’s largest-ever recorded earthquake – a magnitude-5.7 event that injured two and damaged hundreds of homes and businesses. [Emphasis added]