New Details Revealed In State Earthquake Hearings
OKLAHOMA CITY - More evidence is coming to light showing that scientists at the Oklahoma Geological Survey were pressured not to publicly connect the state's dramatic increase in earthquakes with oil and gas activity.
The latest evidence comes in the form of sworn testimony from the state's former seismologist, Dr. Austin Holland.
Dr. Holland was deposed October 11 in New Mexico, where he now works for the U.S. Geological Survey. He is a potential witness in a lawsuit filed over damages caused by the 2011 Prague earthquake (Jennifer Lin Cooper v. New Dominion LLC et al).
Read Holland's deposition, below:
A blog post published last month by the plaintiff's law firm provided highlights of Dr. Holland's eight-hour deposition, but Monday News 9 gained access to the entire transcript.
Holland left the Oklahoma Geological Survey -- and Oklahoma -- in 2015, five and a half years after taking what he claimed was his "dream job." Oklahoma first began seeing an increase in seismicity late in 2009, and Holland led the state's scientific response to the quakes as they continued to increase at an alarming rate.
As Oklahoma's State Seismologist, Holland became the face of the earthquake issue, doing media interviews and often taking criticism from those who felt the state was ignoring other research that suggested oil and gas activity was causing the temblors.
In the deposition, Holland acknowledged he dealt with political pressures that other scientists didn't; he said the final straw for him was being told by Larry Grillot, then the Dean of OU's Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, that a peer-reviewed journal article he co-authored on induced seismicity was "unacceptable."
According to the transcript, Holland testified: "I was just disappointed and devastated and, you know, it was one of those moments in life, you don't have many, where you wish you would have recorded a conversation, because I did not expect the conversation to go where it went, and it was just really disappointing...it was sort of like realizing that I could no longer be a scientist in an environment that I thought was my perfect job."
In response to previous stories suggesting Holland had been pressured not to link Oklahoma's earthquakes with oil and gas, OU officials have insisted that Holland had total academic freedom to pursue the science.
Holland's testimony suggests otherwise indicated that was not actually true.
"[Dean Grillot and OGS Director Randy Keller] helped me with presentations, they'd take a look and change – for the public, change wording and that sort of thing. They would tell me that they had gotten a bunch of calls, complaints, after I'd give a news conference about some earthquake or something, and they'd say they had gotten a lot of complaints and that we need to really watch how we say things and that, you know, we have to make sure that we're accurate. And, of course, that's the one thing I always made sure I was when I was speaking to the press. But I also had points where the dean of the college [Grillot] asked to see my presentations to scientific meetings and would then wordsmith my presentations for scientific meetings, as well as at one point was asked to withdraw an abstract from a scientific meeting in Arkansas because the topic was earthquakes triggered by hydraulic fracture."
Holland recalled a time when Keller and Grillot asked him to update them on the latest research and what it was suggesting about the cause of the earthquakes. He said he told them that, scientifically, you couldn't rule out either possibility--that the quakes were induced or natural.
"And then that got turned into a statement saying that the earthquakes were naturally-occurring earthquakes..." Holland testified.
With regard to a frequently cited meeting, Dr. Holland was called to with OU President David Boren and Continental CEO Harold Hamm, Holland offered this:
"Well, the president of the university expressed to me that I had complete academic freedom, but that as part of being an employee of the state survey, I also have a need to listen to, you know, the people within the oil and gas industry. And so, Harold Hamm expressed to me that I had to be careful of the way in which I say things, that hydraulic fracturing is critical to the state's economy in Oklahoma, and that me publicly stating that earthquakes can be caused by hydraulic fracturing was -- you know, could be misleading, and that he was nervous about the war on fossil fuels at the time."
News 9 reached out to OU for a response to Holland's testimony. Rowdy Gilbert, Senior Associate Vice President for Public Affairs, said, "We have not seen the full deposition and cannot respond to the limited information provided."
"As mentioned previously," Gilbert continued, "scientists at the University of Oklahoma are empowered to pursue their research without any undue interference. In 2015, Dr. Holland was quoted in a media report as saying, "We have the academic freedoms necessary for university employees doing research." The groundbreaking research provided by the Oklahoma Geological Survey has aided the public's understanding of the increased seismicity affecting Oklahoma over the last several years."