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Is “Big Oil” influencing OGS earthquake study?

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OKLAHOMA - As the Oklahoma Geological Survey tries to determine the cause of the recent earthquakes, some believe there may be a conflict of interest since OGS is funded by oil and gas companies.

Some say those companies are the cause.

Bob Jackman, a Tulsa geologist and oil and gas operator, wrote an article in The Oklahoma Observer that claimed nearly 90 percent of OGS's funding comes from big oil producers.

The University of Oklahoma is home to OGS, but a university spokesperson told us it would take "a day or two" to figure out how much money oil and gas companies give them.

"It's the disposal wells, stupid," Jackman said Tuesday. "The science supports that."

He said oil and gas disposal wells, which pump wastewater into the earth, build pressure along fault lines and cause earthquakes.

The solution, Jackman said, is simple. Pump that water away from fault lines.

But he doesn't believe producers want to do that.

"It would cost them money," Jackman said. "They've chosen to ignore the general public's safety over their profit."

In the article, Jackman claims an OGS employee told him that oil and gas producers who give money to OU don't want earthquake research to point the finger at them.

"You don't understand the politics of my position," Jackman claimed the employee said.

"...having enough influence to where they curtail or censor what he says was quite astonishing to me," he said.

When asked if OGS was influenced by oil and gas producers who give money to OU, OGS Director Randy Keller said - "No. Absolutely not."

In fact, Keller says Jackman's memory of that conversation is incorrect.

He says oil and gas companies donate money to OGS to buy more equipment to figure out the cause of earthquakes.

But the state's Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity, he says, may never know if the "fracking" process is to blame.

"I think something good will come out of it," Keller said, "but is it going to turn this into a black and white situation? We're not going to achieve that. It's just too complicated."

However, Jackman points to researchers in Ohio who concluded more than 109 earthquakes were induced by a wastewater injection well.

The Secretary of Energy and Environment, Michael Teague, is heading up the Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity.

He said Tuesday oil and gas companies are being very helpful in the investigation with respect to sharing data.

The Council met for the first time Monday. A second meeting has yet to be scheduled.