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University of Oklahoma developed quake position while asking oilman for $25M

University of Oklahoma officials were seeking a $25 million donation from billionaire oilman Harold Hamm last year, records show, at a time when scientists at the school were formulating the state's position on oil drilling and earthquakes.

They came up with a position that squared with Hamm's, saying most of the hundreds of earthquakes rattling the state are natural and not caused by the oil industry.


Okla. scientists suspected quakes linked to oil 8 years ago

The Oklahoma Geological Survey jolted the national drilling debate last week when it announced oil and gas activity was "very likely" causing the earthquakes plaguing the state. But many scientists at the survey had suspected as much since 2007, when earthquakes rattled an area near an oil and gas operation in southeast Oklahoma City.

Survey leaders, though, decided against going public with a theory that might be viewed as hostile to the state's most prominent industry, according to interviews and agency emails obtained by EnergyWire under Oklahoma's Open Records Act.


Hamm sought meeting with OU's Boren on Okla. quakes in 2011

Continental Resources Inc. founder Harold Hamm sought as far back as 2011 to manage Oklahoma's state-funded research into the links among hydraulic fracturing, oil production and earthquakes.

Hamm sought a meeting with University of Oklahoma President David Boren in September 2011 after state seismologist Austin Holland, a university employee, wrote a report linking small earthquakes in south-central Oklahoma to fracking. According to emails obtained by EnergyWire through open records requests, Hamm wanted to discuss how Holland's research on fracking might be perceived by the public.


Okla. agency linked quakes to oil in 2010, but kept mum amid industry pressure

Oklahoma's state scientists have suspected for years that oil and gas operations in the state were causing a swarm of earthquakes, but in public they rejected such a connection.

When the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) did cautiously agree with other scientists about such a link, emails obtained by EnergyWire show the state seismologist was called into meetings with his boss, University of Oklahoma President David Boren, and oil executives "concerned" about the acknowledgement.

The earthquakes displayed were located in Oklahoma and occurred from Jan. 2, 2008, until Nov. 24, 2015, based on Oklahoma Geological Survey information. The earthquakes are a minimum 2.0 magnitude. Click map to link to animation. Map courtesy of USGS.

About This Report

Man-made earthquakes are perhaps the most unusual side effect of the nation's drilling boom. They're also a test of whether oil and gas regulators can stand up to industry pressure when science points out a new hazard.


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