Oil Billionaire Demands Scientists Be Fired

Oil Billionaire Demands Scientists Be Fired May 18, 2015

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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