It’s becoming harder and harder to defend hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The evidence is mounting that it is not only incredibly harmful to the immediate environment, but that it also leads to further geologic complications, most notably, earthquakes. Unfortunately, these associated issues have been overlooked or swept under the rug by the powers of big business and government, despite the perilous implications to the public.
Even as the health and environmental concerns have pushed their way into the headlines, and residents of states where fracking has become commonplace have grown aware of the threats to their health and property, the industry isn’t backing down. In fact, one business leader has gone a step further, even asking that public employees be fired for being so brazen as to conduct research on fracking’s harmful effects.
That man is Harold Hamm, and he is the CEO and founder of Continental Resources, an Oklahoma City-based energy company. Hamm, a billionaire, reportedly went on the warpath after researchers at the University of Oklahoma linked the incredible uptick in the state’s earthquake activity to the fracking industry, and approached the university’s dean about having the offending scientists removed from their respective positions.
This all comes by way of Bloomberg, which reports that through pubic records requests, it was able to obtain email transcripts of communications between university staff, discussing how angry Hamm was about the school’s findings. One of those emails, authored by Larry Grillot, who serves as dean at the UO’s Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, says, “I visited with Harold Hamm (at his request), to discuss his concerns about reporting of earthquake activity by select OGS staff.”
He added, “Mr. Hamm is very upset at some of the earthquake reporting to the point that he would like to see OGS staff dismissed.”
The findings that have put Hamm into such a tizzy were released last year, after research was initiated to figure out how Oklahoma had gone from a rather quiet geologic region to the second-most seismically active state in the country, trailing only California. As some expected, the increase in earthquakes was linked to the surge in hydraulic fracturing across the state, with as much as 20% of those quakes being caused by only a handful of wells in the state’s southeast corner.
These earthquakes are just the most recent worrisome side effect that opponents of fracking have to reference, as there have already been huge concerns regarding the health problems associated with methane leaks from cracking wells, as well as ground water contamination.
In the face of these dangers, and now a measurable, direct link to increased earthquake risk, the energy industry has fought valiantly on. But Hamm’s reaction has to be one of the ugliest, as few others have actually tried to use their prestige and power to have public employees fired, simply because he disagreed with the outcomes of their work. What’s even more egregious is the fact that Hamm’s business operations are actually putting people in danger, and that he would rather cover up that inconvenient fact than find ways to improve extraction techniques.
While Hamm isn’t the only one looking after his business interests — which is hard to hold against him, if that’s all he were doing — the way he’s gone about it is unfortunate, to say the least. By attacking the researchers at a state university, and attacking the science, Hamm’s methods are more akin to the tactics employed by the tobacco industry, or even opponents of marijuana legalization in more recent times.
For residents and families living in Oklahoma, or other areas currently inundated with fracking operations like North Dakota and Texas, the UO study and this one CEO’s attempts to have information relating to public safety stifled have to be alarming. We still don’t know the long-term effects hydraulic fracturing will have on communities, but even in the short-term window we do have to look at, things don’t look too rosy.
Hamm, in this case, has shown he was willing to compromise the safety of the public for his own personal gain. In this case, he was exposed, but it’s probably a safe bet that this wasn’t an isolated incident in the energy industry.
Follow Sam on Twitter @SliceOfGinger