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Oil Executive’s Meeting With Oklahoma Seismologist: Conversation Or Intimidation?

Mar 31, 2015

In November 2013, Oklahoma state seismologist Austin Holland was called into a meeting with University of Oklahoma President David Boren and Continental Resources Chairman and oil billionaire Harold Hamm, EnergyWire’s Mike Sorgahan reported earlier this month.

Austin Holland with the Oklahoma Geological Survey, seated in the center, at a capitol hearing on Oklahoma's earthquake surge.
Credit Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Boren serves on Continental’s board of directors, Hamm is a major OU donor, and Holland works at a state agency, the Oklahoma Geological Survey, which is housed at the university and has a central role in researching an earthquake swarm scientists say is likely triggered by oil and gas activity.

In past interviews, Holland has complained of the oil industry’s attempts to “influence his work,” and in a new Bloomberg story he describes the meeting with Boren and Hamm as “just a little bit intimidating.”

From Bloomberg’s Benjamin Elgin and Matthew Phillips:

During the meeting, Hamm requested that Holland be careful when publicly discussing the possible connection between oil and gas operations and a big jump in the number of earthquakes, which geological researchers were increasingly tying to the underground disposal of oil and gas wastewater, a byproduct of the fracking boom that Continental has helped pioneer. “It was an expression of concern,” Holland recalls.

Continental Resources disagrees with that description:

“The insinuation that there was something untoward that occurred in those meetings is both offensive and inaccurate,” says Continental Resources spokeswoman Kristin Thomas. “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.”

And so does OU President Boren:

“The meeting with Harold Hamm was purely informational,” the university president said in a statement on March 27. “Mr. Hamm is a very reputable producer and wanted to know if Mr. Holland had found any information which might be helpful to producers in adopting best practices that would help prevent any possible connection between drilling and seismic events. In addition, he wanted to make sure that the Survey (OGS) had the benefit of research by Continental geologists.”

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