Oil Billionaire Demands Scientists Be Fired

Here’s an appalling but totally unsurprising story. A billionaire oil executive in Oklahoma went to the University of Oklahoma and demanded that scientists on the faculty who are researching the link between fracking and earthquakes be fired. He’s a big benefactor to the university, so he has a bit of pull.

Oil tycoon Harold Hamm told a University of Oklahoma dean last year that he wanted certain scientists there dismissed who were studying links between oil and gas activity and the state’s nearly 400-fold increase in earthquakes, according to the dean’s e-mail recounting the conversation.

Hamm, the billionaire founder and chief executive officer of Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources, is a major donor to the university, which is the home of the Oklahoma Geological Survey. He has vigorously disputed the notion that he tried to pressure the survey’s scientists. “I’m very approachable, and don’t think I’m intimidating,” Hamm was quoted as saying in an interview with EnergyWire, an industry publication, that was published on May 11. “I don’t try to push anybody around.”

Yet an e-mail obtained from the university by Bloomberg News via a public records request says Hamm used a blunt approach during a 90-minute meeting last year with the dean whose department includes the geological survey.

“Mr. Hamm is very upset at some of the earthquake reporting to the point that he would like to see select OGS staff dismissed,” wrote Larry Grillot, the dean of the university’s Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, in a July 16, 2014, e-mail to colleagues at the university. Hamm also expressed an interest in joining a search committee charged with finding a new director for the geological survey, according to Grillot’s e-mail. And, the dean wrote, Hamm indicated that he would be “visiting with Governor [Mary] Fallin on the topic of moving the OGS out of the University of Oklahoma.”

Hamm’s spokespeople deny this, of course, but think about who has the incentive to lie here and who doesn’t. What’s more likely, that Hamm is now lying to pretend he didn’t strong arm the university to get critics of his company fired? Or that the dean of a university to which Hamm donates a lot of money would make up that story and put the university’s endowment at risk by lying about a major donor’s demands? The answer to that should be quite obvious.

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  • colnago80

    If there are any scientists at UO studying global climate change, they will probably join the geologists on his heave ho list.

  • colnago80

    Maybe he should take a leaf from the Koch Brothers playbook and fund some contrarian scientists to dispute any link between fracking and earthquakes. By the way, I would bet that the blogs former resident AGW denier, Sir Lancelot, would would be front and center with fracking/earthquake denial.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    Or that the dean of a university to which Hamm donates a lot of money would make up that story and put the university’s endowment at risk by lying about a major donor’s demands?

    Not only that, but they would have had to have pre-planted the lie nearly a year in advance, in an email by the dean that is public record and an email from the oil billionaire himself volunteering to be on the search committee.

    The conspiracy sure runs deep.

  • llewelly

    As near as I can tell (based on this ) the OGS report actually says:

    The primary suspected source of triggered seismicity is not from hydraulic fracturing, but from the injection/disposal of water associated with oil and gas production.

    But since the waste disposal and the fracking take place at the same site (see the diagram in the ifls article), and the water (I think) emerges from the fracking, that distinction is academic to anyone not working directly on the problem.

    I am getting the impression the scientists are actually trying to co-operate with the industry as much as feasible, and seek regulation, rather than outright bans.

    (Of course I support outright bans, but not due to earthquakes; my primary concern is global warming.)

  • sugarfrosted

    And this is why we need tenure. For every Behe there are tons of legitimate faculty members who need this protection from unduly corporate influence.

  • http://kamakanui.zenfolio.com Kamaka

    llewelly @ 4

    The primary suspected source of triggered seismicity is not from hydraulic fracturing, but from the injection/disposal of water associated with oil and gas production.

    The water used in hydaulic fracturing is extremely salty and radioactive, too. It’s a real problem to get rid of, it can’t be fixed through treatment, so the down and dirty is to inject it deep into the Earth. Or spread it on roads.

    Besides earthquakes, damage to aquifers is guaranteed. Western North Dakota may end up an uninhabitable wasteland. But the fracking oil boom is fucking up Russia’s economy , so it’s all good.

  • sigurd jorsalfar

    “And this is why we need tenure. For every Behe there are tons of legitimate faculty members who need this protection from unduly corporate influence.”

    It’s also why we need public funding of education instead of leaving it up to wealthy ‘philanthropists’.

  • eric

    And this is why we need tenure. For every Behe there are tons of legitimate faculty members who need this protection from unduly corporate influence.

    Maybe. But I would say a bigger problem is: “this is why we need States to actually pay for their f*cking State Universities out of the State budget.” The Dean etc. is not kowtowing to a big donor because he wants to, he’s kowtowing to a big donor because he has to.

  • pixiedust

    Huh. I know a grad student at that U in that department doing research on a closely related topic. Last we spoke, he said the whole thing is another version of ” What’s the Matter With Kansas.”

  • yoav

    Not only that, but they would have had to have pre-planted the lie nearly a year in advance, in an email by the dean that is public record and an email from the oil billionaire himself volunteering to be on the search committee.

    I’m sure they had no problem borrowing Obama’s time machine.

  • lldayo

    Anybody have any idea as to how much he donates? Maybe we could set up a GoFundMe account to offset it if he stop giving.

  • Donnie

    lldayo says

    May 19, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Anybody have any idea as to how much he donates? Maybe we could set up a GoFundMe account to offset it if he stop giving.

    from the linked article:

    Hamm has been a generous donor to the University of Oklahoma, including a 2011 gift of $20 million for a diabetes research center named after the oilman.