Rep. Cory Williams presses Secretary Michael Teague to use all grant money for earthquake study

OKLAHOMA CITY – A Payne County legislator in November urged state officials to allocate all of a recent grant for research into earthquakes that have been shaking central and northern Oklahoma for about three years.

State Energy and Environment Secretary Michael Teague secured $200,000 from his own budget for earthquake research by the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS). However, one legislator contends a significant portion of that money apparently will be spent on utility bills and administrative expenses.

“I urge OU President Boren to see that every penny of that grant is spent on earthquake research and not on incidental expenses,” said state Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater. 

“Earthquakes have become the biggest threat to public safety in north central Oklahoma, and that grant money is desperately needed to continue research into this problem.”

University officials and Teague are discussing the appropriate rate the university will charge for administration of the grant, according to Mike Stice, dean of the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy. The university could charge up to 52% of the direct costs to cover indirect spending, although state grants typically are charged at a 26% rate.

“At 26%, OU would be taking $52,000 from the OGS to pay a light bill, when instead that money should be devoted to research that possibly could resolve a situation that is literally a crisis for many of us,” Williams said. 

“Surely President Boren has sufficient resources to pay the overhead expenses of the Geological Survey without tapping into that grant.”

The Geological Survey is considered a state agency and is a part of the college.

OGS Director Jeremy Boak said that the more funding he has, the more equipment he can purchase, the more people he can hire and the more research he can perform.

Boak has advertised for candidates to fill two seismologist vacancies in the OGS, which monitors earthquakes in Oklahoma and provided analyses for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry in this state.

Boak said other priorities include hiring someone to catalogue the near-daily tremors that occur in Oklahoma. He said he also needs approximately $10,000 to add modems to nine seismic monitoring stations so data can be transmitted automatically through cellular networks, rather than having to be downloaded by hand onto a flash drive.

He also wants about $65,000 to launch a study of the subterranean Arbuckle rock formation, in order to understand the faults and pressures that are contributing to Oklahoma’s earthquakes. And he needed about $50,000 to establish a geographic information system for the agency’s data collections, which would enable data to be available in a format easy to search and digest.

Controversy is dogging Oklahoma’s energy industry in wake of conclusions that deep injection wells have caused or contributed to Oklahoma’s significant spike in seismic activity in recent years.

At a public hearing in August, Gov. Mary Falllin told reporters and other attendees, “We all know now there is a direct correlation between the increase in earthquakes we’ve seen in Oklahoma and the disposal wells, based upon many different factors, whether it is volume or location or whether it is on a fault line, how deep that disposal well goes into the earth itself.”

Reporter Paul Monies, in a story published Sunday (November 29) in The Oklahoman summarized recent regulatory actions ordering oil and gas producers to reduce depths and volumes in a total of 635 wells in north central Oklahoma.

At a conference on climate change that began in Paris on Monday (November 30), some world leaders are echoing the calls of activists demanding an end to the fossil fuels industry.

NOTE: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.