Thursday, March 19, 2015

Corrupt seismology: Oklahoma edition

We live in a time when corruption is routine, done in public and of course, roundly denied. Here's a blatant case involving the University of Oklahoma, and earthquakes triggered by oil drilling related injection wells.
 it was revealed that Mr. Boren has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars a year as a board member of an oil company. Meanwhile, the state seismologist under the president's oversight has refused to draw a public link between a series of earthquakes and the industry’s injection wells — a connection many scientists think is well supported by the evidence.
This time, nobody is apologizing. The oil-industry money, Mr. Boren has said, poses no conflict of interest with his university’s oversight of the seismologist, Austin A. Holland, and his agency.
"We are very sensitive at the University of Oklahoma about any possible interference with academic freedom and scientific inquiry," Mr. Boren said in a written statement distributed by his spokesman, Corbin C. Wallace.
Others aren’t so sure. "Even if he’s not doing anything wrong, and he’s a very ethical person," said Rebekah L. Herrick, a professor of political science at Oklahoma State University, "if you’re taking money from somebody, it always just raises questions."
Either way, the state, faced with a sharp uptick in earthquakes, is looking for answers.
These quakes are more than just annoyances. They cause structural damage, often expensive---a kind of a tax imposed by the frackers on the people of the state.
 For at least three decades before 2008, Oklahoma typically had one or two quakes every year that measured a magnitude 3.0 or stronger. In 2009 that figure rose to 20. And it kept growing — to 42 in 2010, 109 in 2013, and 585 last year, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, the state’s seismology agency. In 2014 Oklahoma led the continental United States in such major quakes, outpacing even California, the agency said last month in its annual report.
It’s been a "five-year reign of earthquake terror," said Robert P. Jackman, a Tulsa petroleum geologist and onetime Congressional candidate. Oklahoma officials have not compiled statewide damage figures, but Mr. Jackman estimated $150 million as a minimum, given that the four hardest-hit counties together have about 150,000 homes, many now bearing cracked foundations or walls.
One of the state’s worst series of quakes, a November 2011 strike, was centered about 50 miles east of Oklahoma City and had a peak magnitude of 5.6, making it the most powerful in Oklahoma since 1952.
Among those suffering damage was St. Gregory’s University, a small Roman Catholic institution in Shawnee. The shaking in Shawnee caused the collapse of one of four turrets on Benedictine Hall, built a century ago by French monks on land given to the monks by Pottawatomie Indians. The other three towers, deemed also at risk, were taken down and replaced at a cost exceeding $1 million.
It was a big hit to a small, tuition-dependent university with little endowment and — like most properties in Oklahoma — no earthquake insurance, said Harley W. Lingerfelt, vice president for operations at St. Gregory’s. "We’re getting through it, and it’s a struggle, but we’re committed to fulfilling what the monks started," he said.
St. Gregory's is one of several Oklahoma colleges touched by the quakes. Others coping with damage include Oklahoma State University at Stillwater, which is closer to the main belt of earthquakes, in north-central Oklahoma. One temblor in 2012 caused nearly $100,000 in damage to structural columns in an animal show barn, said a spokesman, Gary Shutt.

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