Re­search pres­sure al­leged

De­po­si­tion •

Tulsa World - - Front Page - By Corey Jones

The state's for­mer top seis­mol­o­gist was rep­ri­manded by a Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa of­fi­cial for pub­lish­ing a study on mit­i­gat­ing in­duced seis­mic­ity and felt pres­sured not to link Ok­la­homa's earth­quakes with man-made causes, ac­cord­ing to his tes­ti­mony in a law­suit.

Austin Hol­land's sworn state­ments from a re­cent de­po­si­tion con­tra­dict pub­lic state­ments OU Pres­i­dent David Boren made to the Tulsa World in 2015. Boren re­peat­edly stated that the univer­sity and its donors never ex­erted in­flu­ence or pres­sure on Ok­la­homa Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey sci­en­tists re­search­ing the state's un­prece­dented seis­mic­ity.

When reached re­cently by the Tulsa World, Boren and the for­mer dean of the Earth and En­ergy Col­lege dis­puted Hol­land's tes­ti­mony that the univer­sity or its of­fi­cials ap­plied pres­sure on or pun­ished him for his re­search.

Hol­land's de­po­si­tion was taken on Oct. 11 in an on­go­ing law­suit filed in 2015 by Jen­nifer Cooper against New Do­min­ion and Spess Oil Co. for da­m­ages sus­tained in the 2009 Prague earth­quakes.

Hol­land de­scribed how he was “dis­ap­pointed” and “dev­as­tated” to re­ceive a rep­ri­mand for help­ing pub­lish a peer­re­viewed journal ar­ti­cle on how to cope with man-made earth­quakes. He said he de­cided that he “couldn't take any more” and start­ing to search for a new po­si­tion.

The rep­ri­mand came dur­ing the pe­riod be­fore the pa­per was re­leased to me­dia out­lets, Hol­land stated. The re­search, on which he is listed as a co-au­thor, was pub­lished in Fe­bru­ary 2015. In July 2015, it be­came pub­lic that Hol­land was leav­ing the Ok­la­homa Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey to pur­sue a job with the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey.

The Ok­la­homa Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey is a state agency ad­min­is­tered by OU.

“And so, you know, it was sort of like re­al­iz­ing that I could no longer be a sci­en­tist in an en­vi­ron­ment that I thought was my per­fect job was re­ally dis­heart­en­ing. … But af­ter be­ing rep­ri­manded for pub­lish­ing a pa­per, I felt like I had just lost my dream job

And the warn­ing signs were there as far as be­ing asked to re­move pre­sen­ta­tions from sci­en­tific meet­ings and other things. It was — hav­ing my words edited by the dean was cer­tainly, you know, some warn­ing signs.” Austin Hol­land, for­mer OGS seis­mol­o­gist

in one con­ver­sa­tion,” tes­ti­fied.

“And the warn­ing signs were there as far as be­ing asked to re­move pre­sen­ta­tions from sci­en­tific meet­ings and other things. It was — hav­ing my words edited by the dean was cer­tainly, you know, some warn­ing signs. But that was pretty much the turn­ing point.”

Hol­land specif­i­cally iden­ti­fied Larry Gril­lot, for­mer dean of the Mew­bourne Col­lege of Earth and En­ergy, and Randy Keller, for­mer di­rec­tor of the Ok­la­homa Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey, as in­flu­enc­ing and al­ter­ing word­ing in his re­search or pre­sen­ta­tions.

Hol­land re­sponded with both of their names when a plain­tiff's at­tor­ney asked who pres­sured him to avoid link­ing the Prague-area earth­quakes with salt­wa­ter in­jec­tion by the oil and gas in­dus­try.

Hol­land's tes­ti­mony also of­fered de­tails of a meet­ing that took place with Boren and Harold Hamm, a donor of mil­lions of dol­lars to OU who founded oil and gas com­pany Con­ti­nen­tal Re­sources. Hol­land said he was called into the pres­i­dent's of­fice af­ter he wrote a pa­per dis­cussing hy­draulic frac­tur­ing as a trig­ger for some earth­quakes in Ok­la­homa.

“Well, the pres­i­dent of the univer­sity ex­pressed to me that I had com­plete aca­demic free­dom but that as part of be­ing an em­ployee of the state sur­vey, I also have a need to lis­ten to, you know, the peo­ple within the oil and gas in­dus­try,” Hol­land said. “And so Harold Hamm ex­pressed to me that I had to be care­ful of the way in which I say things, that hy­draulic frac­tur­ing is crit­i­cal to the state's econ­omy in Ok­la­homa, and that me pub­licly stat­ing that earth­quakes can be caused by hy­draulic frac­tur­ing was — you know, could be mis­lead­ing, and that he was ner­vous about the war on fos­sil fu­els at the time.”

Hol­land's tes­ti­mony con­tra­dicts what Boren told the Tulsa World in an in­ter­view re­spond­ing to a June 2015 En­er­gyWire story that re­ported that the Ok­la­homa Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey waf­fled on its find­ings re­lated to the state's rapidly grow­ing num­ber of earth­quakes.

Boren re­peat­edly told the Tulsa World that work at the univer­sity was never com­pro­mised by Hamm or any other donor.

“No re­searcher at the Ok­la­homa Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey … has ever re­ceived pres­sure from the univer­sity to change their re­search or to slow their re­search,” Boren told the World in June 2015. “There has been no pres­sure about their re­search in any way.”

In a re­cent writ­ten re­sponse to ques­tions posed by the Tulsa World, Boren said he hasn't seen the full de­po­si­tion and can't re­spond to Hol­land's spe­cific comments.

“I was not privy to con­ver­sa­tions within the de­part­ment about the aca­demic mer­its of par­tic­u­lar sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tions or re­ports,” Boren wrote. “As I have ex­pressed pub­licly and to Dr. Hol­land per­son­ally, OGS re­searchers have full aca­demic free­dom.

“Dr. Hol­land him­self stated in a 2015 me­dia re­port, `We have the aca­demic free­doms nec­es­sary for univer­sity em­ploy­ees do­ing re­search.' Our com­mit­ment to aca­demic free­dom is paramount.”

Boren's state­ment also lauded the re­search of the OGS.

“We have learned that waste­water dis­posal has con­trib­uted to in­creased seis­mic­ity specif­i­cally based on the pi­o­neer­ing re­search pro­vided by the Ok­la­homa Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey,” Boren said. “The univer­sity stands by OGS re­searchers and is proud to have played a role in this im­por­tant sci­en­tific find­ing, which is be­ing used to pro­tect the safety and

Re­gard­ing his rep­ri­mand from the Col­lege of Earth and En­ergy's dean, Hol­land tes­ti­fied that Gril­lot called him to his of­fice and told him the re­search pa­per was “un­ac­cept­able.”

Hol­land said Gril­lot con­veyed sev­eral com­plaints about the study, but he said the dean's pri­mary un­hap­pi­ness cen­tered on a pol­icy state­ment rec­om­mend­ing that the in­dus­try make its seis­mic and in­jec­tion data pub­licly avail­able.

“As I men­tioned, that was one of those con­ver­sa­tions where I was not ex­pect­ing what oc­curred, and I wish I would have had a record­ing of it, and I did not have the fore­sight to go make notes,” Hol­land said. “I was sort of wash­ing my hands of where I was at and what I was do­ing at that point.”

Hol­land noted that Gril­lot's rep­ri­mand wasn't put in writ­ing be­cause a “large num­ber of open records re­quests” prompted in­ter­nal con­ver­sa­tions to pri­mar­ily take place in per­son or on a phone line to avoid cre­at­ing “a search­able record of con­ver­sa­tions.”

Gril­lot re­sponded that “rep­ri­mand is a strong word,” adding, “I don't re­call hav­ing done that at all. Pe­riod.”

The Tulsa World asked him whether he had ex­pressed dis­plea­sure or un­hap­pi­ness with the pa­per in ques­tion, than a rep­ri­mand.

“No, not from the con­tent,” Gril­lot said.

He then added:

“We were try­ing to keep a lot of con­stituents in­formed,” Gril­lot said. “Whether it be the sec­tor of en­ergy, the Ok­la­homa Cor­po­ra­tion Com­mis­sion and the var­i­ous pub­lic and ev­ery­body else, we had dis­cus­sions about how we could com­mu­ni­cate all this stuff.”

Hol­land also tes­ti­fied that Gril­lot and Keller “helped me with pre­sen­ta­tions,” chang­ing word­ing “and that sort of thing” for the pub­lic. He said the pair would tell him that they would re­ceive “a bunch of calls, com­plaints” af­ter Hol­land would present a news con­fer­ence about an earth­quake.

“But I also had points where the dean of the col­lege asked to see my pre­sen­ta­tions to sci­en­tific meet­ings and would then word­smith my pre­sen­ta­tions for sci­en­tific meet­ings, as well as at one point was asked to with­draw an ab­stract from a sci­en­tific meet­ing in Arkansas be­cause the topic was earth­quakes trig­gered by hy­draulic frac­ture,” Hol­land said, not­ing that he did with­draw his ab­stract.

Gril­lot said he would “some­times sug­gest changes or ed­its but usu­ally only when asked.” He also said he doesn't re­call ask­ing Hol­land to with­draw a sci­en­tific ab­stract.

“If Dr. Hol­land is as­sert­ing that he re­ceived pres­sure from me to al­ter his re­search or con­clu­sions, that's not true,” Gril­lot said. “That did not hap­pen.”

Sev­eral times Gril­lot re­ferred to the time pe­riod as “the early days” in in­ves­ti­gat­ing Ok­la­homa's surge in earth­quakes. He noted that the Prague quakes sparked much de­bate with many opin­ions, adding that a Stan­ford Univer­sity study as re­cent as Novem­ber 2015 still ex­pressed un­cer­tainty as to whether hu­man ac­tions trig­gered that se­quence.

“I be­lieve that both Dr. Hol­land and Dr. Keller were good sci­en­tists,” Gril­lot said. “I felt we had a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship.”

At­tempts by the Tulsa World to reach Keller, as well as Hamm, for com­ment were un­suc­cess­ful.

Hol­land de­clined to com­ment fur­ther when reached by the Tulsa World.

Af­ter the En­er­gyWire story was pub­lished, the Tulsa World ob­tained emails that Mike Sor­aghan used to write his re­port.

The emails in­di­cate a close re­la­tion­ship be­tween the in­dus­try, the OGS and the Mew­bourne Col­lege of Earth and En­ergy. They also show that Hamm and oth­ers in the en­ergy in­dus­try at least tried to limit the pub­lic comments of Hol­land and Keller, his for­mer boss.

The emails re­veal that Hamm and oth­ers en­cour­aged Boren to leave all pub­lic comments re­lated to earth­quakes and the OGS to Cather­ine Bishop, the univer­sity's vice pres­i­dent for pub­lic af­fairs and long­time spokes­woman.

In De­cem­ber 2013, Hamm emailed Boren, “I am glad you put Cather­ine Bishop in charge. This sit­u­a­tion could spi­ral out of hand eas­ily.”

Boren told the Tulsa World, “I think (Hamm) was say­ing that … he was frus­trated be­cause peo­ple were tak­ing quotes from Austin Hol­land or con­clu­sions about his re­search out of con­text.”

Ul­ti­mately, Hamm was not sat­is­fied. In July 2014, Gril­lot wrote to Danny Hil­liard, a for­mer leg­is­la­tor who is now a lob­by­ist for the univer­sity, that Hamm was “very up­set at some of the earth­quake re­port­ing to the point that he would like to see se­lect OGS staff dis­missed.”

Above, Am­ber­lee Darold and Austin Hol­land, both then-seis­mol­o­gists with the Ok­la­homa Ge­o­logic Sur­vey, in­stall a new seis­mo­graph in south­west Ok­la­homa City in 2015. At left, the two an­swer ques­tions dur­ing a 2015 Med­ford town meet­ing on the in­creas­ing fre­quency of earth­quakes.


JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World file

Am­ber­lee Darold (back­ground) and Austin Hol­land, who were at the time work­ing as seis­mol­o­gists for the Ok­la­homa Ge­o­logic Sur­vey, put a new seis­mo­graph into the ground and set up its mon­i­tor­ing sta­tion in a ru­ral part of south­west Ok­la­homa City in 2015.

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