The process of fracking involves extracting natural gas by drilling down inside the earth and then directing a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals at rock in order to release the gas that is inside of it. Besides being physically disruptive to the planet, the wastewater that the process produces is very toxic and contains a variety of dangerous chemicals.
It has been contaminating drinking water in many places, and those who live in the areas surrounding fracking sites can actually set fire to the air and water coming in through their pipes.
As if all that weren’t reason enough that the practice should be abandoned, it has also led to an upswing in seismic activity. In Oklahoma, for example, 639 earthquakes were seen in 2016 alone.
The state of Oklahoma’s former lead seismologist, Austin Holland, testified under oath that University of Oklahoma officials actively covered up scientific findings connecting fracking to earthquakes. He said in a deposition that the former dean of the Mewbourne College of Earth & Energy at the University of Oklahoma, Larry Grillot, and the Oklahoma Geological Survey’s former director, Randy Keller, pressured him to change his findings in a way that would be more favorable to fracking companies. He said this prompted him to leave his positions at the University of Oklahoma and the Geological Survey.
Holland said he was told that calls he wished to publish for data like daily injection rates, injection interval depths, and wellhead pressures to be made available to the public to help improve understanding of fluid-induced earthquakes were “unacceptable.”
After printing them anyway, he said the president of the school, David Boren, and the CEO and Chairman of oil-producing firm Continental Resources, Harold Hamm, told him that as an employee of the state survey, he had to listen to the gas and oil industry and needed to be careful how he worded things because fracking was so essential to the state’s economy.
Hamm later sent an email to Grillot in which he said he wanted any faculty members who were researching the connection between earthquakes and wastewater to be “dismissed from the university.”
In addition, Holland said that Grillot would interfere with his research publications by editing his presentations and changing his wording.
Holland eventually resigned. “I don’t know if ‘angry’ is the right word, but just disappointed … that I’d spent my time working towards something, and I thought I was in my dream job, and then I couldn’t be a scientist and do what scientists do, and that’s publish with colleagues. Well, that’s the point at which I realized that for my scientific credibility, I had to leave the position I was in,” he said.
Geology Adjunct Professor Neil Suneson, who worked with Holland at the Oklahoma Geological Survey, expressed his disappointment at the way the situation went down. He said that when good scientists go head-to-head with politics, it’s always the politics that win. “We would like to get some honest answers, but money talks,” he lamented.
As outrageous as this story is, the sad truth is that scientists are regularly pressured and sometimes even downright bullied into altering data to cast certain interests in the best light possible. This is one incident where someone has been brave enough to speak out – how many others could there be out there who are too afraid to say anything?
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