OGS to USGS: Scientist moves amid increased activity

From the ENE ongoing investigation: Who's at fault? series
  • 1 min to read

ENID, Okla. — Less than three months after Oklahoma Geological Survey said it was “very likely” the majority of the state's quakes were triggered by injection wells, OGS Chief Seismologist Austin Holland left to work for U.S. Geological Survey.

Holland now is supervisory geophysicist at the Albuquerque (N.M.) Seismic Lab for USGS. He had been employed with OGS since 2010.

Holland reportedly said the reasons he left were 80-hour work weeks and work-life balance. Since Holland's departure, the seismologist has kept a low profile.

SCROLL TO BOTTOM of story for interactive map of Oklahoma's injection wells and earthquakes and a history of campaign contributions and employee numbers regarding energy industry.

More stories this week

Who's at Fault: How the state’s stance linking injection wells and seismicity changed 

• Drilling, Sen. Marlatt and SB 809


When contacted for an Enid News & Eagle interview, he redirected the inquiry to OGS. OGS, along with Oklahoma Corporation Commission, redirected the inquiry to USGS and Holland.

Since Holland came to OGS, Oklahoma’s seismic activity rapidly increased.

In a timeline provided to the News & Eagle by Holland, discussions focused around the OGS’ ability to monitor seismicity accurately.

“It’s conceivable that people started getting nervous about injection wells earlier, but no one started making the connection until 2010, 2011,” said Jeremy Boak, Oklahoma Geological Survey director, who joined the OGS staff in July after Holland left. “It’s been a rising interest.”

Emails obtained by EnergyWire show on Nov. 18, 2013, Holland was asked to coffee with University of Oklahoma President David Boren and Continental Resources CEO and founder Harold Hamm, a former Enid resident.

Boren is on the Board of Directors for Continental Resources. Hamm is a major donor to OU, including a $20 million gift for a new diabetes center.

Holland was considered an OU employee, and OGS is housed on OU’s Norman campus.

According to Holland's timeline, he gave a presentation about induced seismicity from fluid injection at the Geological Society of America's Penrose Conference. He made that presentation in mid-October 2013, the month before the invitation with Hamm and Boren.

A story published by BloombergBusiness in March 2015 states Hamm asked Holland to “be careful” when talking about a connection between oil and gas and increased seismicity.

In a statement, OU spokeswoman Catherine Bishop said OGS researchers have “complete academic freedom.”

Continental Resources spokeswoman Kristin Thomas did not comment on the emails. However, she said Continental Resources has not been involved in any recent well shutdowns by the OCC.

“The insinuation that there was something untoward that occurred in those meetings is both offensive and inaccurate,” Thomas said to Bloomberg. “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.”

Recommended for you