Austin Holland, the research seismologist who has led the state’s efforts to both catalogue and explain the state’s unprecedented increase in seismicity over the last six years, has decided to leave the Oklahoma Geological Survey and take a position with the USGS in New Mexico.
In a statement for News 9, Holland said he “will continue to work with those in Oklahoma” in his new role as a Supervisory Geophysicist at the Albuquerque Seismic Lab. Holland said he has not yet been given a starting date for his new job.
With the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma rising dramatically – from an average of less than two 3.0 or greater magnitude quakes per year before 2009 to 109 in 2013 and 585 in 2014 – Holland became the public face of the agency that was frequently put on the spot and asked what was causing the increase, and, specifically, whether it was tied to increased oil and gas activity in the state. And, while researchers with the USGS and other institutions outside of Oklahoma were more quick to conclude that there was a connection and that the swarm of earthquakes in Oklahoma and other neighboring states were being induced by the disposal of wastewater from oil and gas operations, Holland and the OGS only just this Spring publicly stated the same.
4/21/2015 Related Story: OGS: Oil, Gas Wastewater Disposal Wells Likely Trigger For Most Oklahoma Earthquakes
Recent published reports, based on emails obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, suggest Holland may have been under pressure to deny, or at least downplay, the oil and gas industry’s potential role in the state’s increasingly powerful earthquakes. Officials at the University of Oklahoma, which houses OGS in its Mewbourne College of Earth & Energy, have denied that Holland, or any OGS researchers, were pressured in any way, and that they have always been given complete scientific autonomy.
In his statement, Holland makes no reference to any of that as a possible reason for his decision to leave, only saying that the workload since his arrival in January 2010 has made it tough on his family life.
“I have averaged about 80 hours each week for the five and half years I have been here. I want to change my work-life balance, and this opportunity is a good way to do that,” he said.
Holland calls the decision “difficult” because he is so invested in the seismic monitoring and research efforts at OGS.
Holland spent time during his undergraduate studies in New Mexico and said he has friends and family in the Albuquerque area.