The deposition of Oklahoma's former state seismologist last month continues to shed light on politics that may have impeded the state scientific community's response to an unprecedented increase in earthquakes.
Dr. Austin Holland, research seismologist for the Oklahoma Geological Survey from 2010 to 2015, told attorneys that from day one, he had to "navigate a difficult landscape," since it was expected he would be trying to determine if the new, higher rate of seismicity was tied to oil and gas activity.
"There were certainly times," Dr. Austin testified, "where I was well aware that politics were playing role in what I was allowed to say, the words I was allowed to use in public."
Dr. Holland was deposed on October 11 in New Mexico as a possible witness for the plaintiff in the class action lawsuit Jennifer Lin Cooper v. New Dominion LLC et al. News Nine obtained the transcript of the deposition two weeks ago and now has obtained tne videotaped recording of the day-long deposition.
Holland was asked to describe the incident that led to his decision, in 2015, to find employment elsewhere and leave OGS.
"It was one of those moments in life -- you don't have many," said Holland, "where you wish you would have recorded a conversation, because I did not expect the conversation to go where it went."
The conversation Holland was referring to occurred in the office of then-Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy Dean Larry Grillot. Holland had just co-authored a peer-reviewed journal article that concluded, as most experts outside of Oklahoma had done already, that waste water disposal was to blame for the increase in earthquakes.
"I was reprimanded for publishing a peer-reviewed journal article," Dr. Holland said, under oath, "and knew that I couldn't take any more of that, and left my position -- or began looking for a new position."
Holland says the writing had been on the wall. In an earlier meeting with President David Boren and Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm, Holland says Boren told him he needed to listen to the oil and gas people.
He says Dean Grillot and OGS Director Randy Keller would want to see his presentations ahead of time--"presentations to scientific meetings," said Holland. "And [they] would then wordsmith my presentations...as well as, at one point I was asked to withdraw an abstract from a scientific meeting in Arkansas, because the topic was earthquakes triggered by hydraulic fracture."
Dr. Holland testified that, aside from Hamm, he was not directly pressured by oil and gas executives.
"So I wasn't being coerced by industry," Holland told the attorneys, "I was being coerced by my superiors."
In response, OU President David Boren released a statement, which reads in part:
"I was not privy to conversations within the department about the academic merits of particular scientific publications or reports. I expressed publicly and privately to Dr. Holland that OGS researchers have full academic freedom and a duty to pursue the truth in their research wherever it leads them."
Holland did publicly state in 2015 that he had academic freedom, but now under oath, he says, there was a catch-- "I was told I had academic freedoms," Holland testified, "but that we had to control the message coming out of the OGS."