Continental Resources Inc. Chairman Harold Hamm is defending his 2013 meeting with Oklahoma’s state seismologist. He says he was simply seeking information from a state agency, not pressuring seismologist Austin Holland to change scientific findings.
"The insinuation that there was something untoward that occurred in meetings with Austin Holland is both offensive and inaccurate," Hamm said in an email sent to The Oklahoman newspaper Friday. "Austin works for a state agency. Upon its founding, the Oklahoma Geological Survey had a solid reputation of an agency that was accessible and of service to the community and industry in Oklahoma. We hope that the agency can continue the legacy to provide this service."
As published by The Oklahoman, Hamm’s defense does not explain why the meeting between the scientist and the billionaire included University of Oklahoma President David Boren, Holland’s boss and a member of Continental’s board (EnergyWire, March 3).
Holland’s email address is publicly available. To ensure he was accessible, Holland included his cellphone number in the greeting for the voice mail on his phone at the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS).
At the time of the November 2013 meeting, Holland’s agency had joined the U.S. Geological Survey in saying that oil and gas activity might be a "contributing factor" in the swarm of quakes. In the months after those meetings, OGS returned to its previous position rejecting links between earthquakes and oil and gas activity.
On Saturday, protesters gathered at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City to urge Gov. Mary Fallin (R) to put a moratorium on high-volume waste disposal wells. Television station KOCO reported that "dozens" showed up for the protest.
"We know and we have known for a long time: Deep-well injection of fracking waste is causing these earthquakes that are plaguing our counties and damaging our homes," Earl Hatley with Local Environment Action Demand, or LEAD, told the station.
Holland’s meeting with Hamm and Boren was referenced in emails obtained by EnergyWire under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
Holland wrote to a co-worker in November 2013 that "I have been asked to have ‘coffee’ with President Boren and Harold Hamm."
The co-worker, OGS Public Information Coordinator Connie Smith, had just written a note to Holland alerting him he might be hearing from Continental. Smith told him she had just had a phone conversation with a woman whom she understood to be a lawyer for Continental. The woman pressed her on where OGS gets its funding.
"She really kept asking about who pays us," Smith wrote. "It really caught me off guard. She kept asking who we work for and I kept saying ‘We are a state agency and are part of the MCEE at OU’ and then she said ‘Do you work for OU?’ and I said we are paid and under the administration of the University of Oklahoma."
"MCEE" stands for Mewbourne College of Earth & Energy.
Another Continental executive had indicated to Holland three weeks earlier that he was "concerned" about OGS’s joint statement with USGS on man-made earthquakes.
In the months after those meetings, OGS returned to its previous position rejecting links between earthquakes and oil and gas activity.
Boren said last week in a statement that the meeting was "purely informational." He said it was intended to help the billionaire oilman get information from Holland about how producers could avoid causing earthquakes (EnergyWire, March 5).
Hamm has contributed $30 million to OU. Boren, a former U.S. senator, serves with Hamm on the board of Continental. For that, Boren received $272,700 in cash and stock in 2013.
Federal and academic seismologists have linked a rise in earthquakes in Oklahoma and other central states to oil and gas activities, particularly disposal of billions of gallons of waste fluid.
From 1975 to 2008, the state of Oklahoma averaged one to three quakes a year of magnitude 3 or greater, according to USGS. In 2009, the number of quakes began rising sharply. There were 20 in 2009. In 2012, the number went over 100. Last year, it had 585, an average of 1.6 a day (EnergyWire, Jan. 5). That was three times as many as California.
OGS has repeatedly rejected research linking Oklahoma’s earthquakes to oil and gas activity, even though emails show Holland and OGS scientists had suspected such links since 2010.
Industry and political leaders in the state, where 1 of every 6 jobs is linked to oil and gas, have seized on OGS’s skepticism. Many of the disposal wells scientists have linked to earthquakes have been allowed to continue injecting, though the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has begun implementing restrictions on new disposal wells in earthquake-prone areas.