Former Oklahoma Seismologist Deposed In Court

Thursday, October 19th 2017, 7:49 pm
By: News 9

Oklahoma's former chief earthquake researcher comes clean on why he quit his job and left the state.

Former state seismologist Austin Holland was deposed last week for a lawsuit and, according to a blog post published Thursday by attorneys representing the plaintiff in the suit, Holland testified that the reason he gave publicly for leaving was only part of the story.

Cooper versus New Dominion et al is a class action suit filed in response in 2015 over damages caused by the magnitude 5.7 earthquake in Prague in 2011. Holland started working for the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS), housed in OU's Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, in 2010.

From that time until his departure in July 2015, while oil and gas producers injected billions of barrels of wastewater underground, and earthquakes in Oklahoma increased 2,000 percent, the face of the agency trying to understand and explain what was happening, OGS, was, more often than not, Holland.

"It's the position of researchers here at the OGS," Holland said in a 2013 interview, "that these earthquakes are completely consistent with naturally occurring earthquakes."

But in 2015, Holland co-authored a paper with USGS scientists concluding the majority of Oklahoma's earthquakes likely were not naturally occurring.

Five months later, he was gone. Holland took a job with the U.S. Geological Survey in New Mexico, saying he would be better able to balance work and family there.

But according to lawyers who deposed Holland last week, he said the bigger reason he left was that, following publication of the paper linking Oklahoma's seismicity to oil and gas activity, he was called in and reprimanded by Mewbourne College's then-Dean Larry Grillot and told that his work was "unacceptable."

According to the Poynter Law Group blog post, Holland also testified that his colleague at the Oklahoma Geological Survey, Amberlee Darold, was also reprimanded for public comments she made about earthquakes and was ordered never to speak to the media again.

Asked to respond to Holland's alleged statements. an OU public relations executive said they couldn't comment without seeing the deposition for themselves. The official also pointed out that, in 2015, in response to a reporter's question about scientific freedom at OU, Holland said, "We have the academic freedoms necessary for university employees doing research.”

Holland's sworn testimony also touched on the alleged behavior of New Dominion, LLC, one of the defendants in the class action suit.

Former OU Scientist Katie Keranen published a study in 2013, postulating that the Prague quakes had been caused by years of waste water being injected underground near known fault lines by New Dominion and others.

In the deposition, Holland reportedly testified, under oath, that he was called to a meeting shortly after publication of Keranen's paper, specifically to develop a plan to respond to it, and that a New Dominion official who was there said they were considering suing her and wanted to make her life "uncomfortable."

Reached Thursday on the phone, a New Dominion executive said the company would not comment, due to the pending litigation.

10/18/17 Related Story: Prague Couple Settle Lawsuit Over Earthquakes