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tv   Fault Lines  Al Jazeera  February 7, 2016 4:30am-5:01am EST

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battered but unbowed, people are braced for whatever the monkey will throw at them do checkout the website. it is always there for you. news on there 24/7. >> it will wake you up before you'll feel it. it's just like a pressure or a force that's coming through your bedroom. >> kind of a weird jolt, or-- a feeling that something's getting ready to happen. the-- the dogs can kinda get funny right before a big one. >> the primary is the one that's, you initially feel. you don't know it's coming. >> all of a sudden, you hear this bang-- kind of a loud pop,
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and the whole house will jolt. >> it sounded like a sonic boom. i heard a big loud boom. >> and then you know it's going to hit. >> you almost feel like the ground's gonna open up underneath of you or something. >> well, and it felt like something very heavy had fallen on my house. >> people would think maybe someone just drove into their garage door. >> and then you think, "am i losing my mind"? this is the third one today and they've only reported one. >> in oklahoma, earthquakes have become a fact of life. beginning in 2009, the state went from experiencing two earthquakes of magnitude 3 point 0 or greater each year, to two or more each day. it's earned the unlikely title of earthquake capital of the u.s., topping even california. after years of government denial, there's a scientific consensus that most of the earthquakes are man-made - caused by the way oil and gas are produced here. but politicians and industry have been slow to react.
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fault lines traveled to oklahoma to find out why. north central oklahoma has borne the brunt of the state's rise in earthquakes. mark crismon is a farmer and retired electronics expert in noble county who voluntarily monitors the earthquakes day and night. in 2014, oklahoma state university installed a seismometer on his property, to collect data about the earthquakes. since then, crismon thinks of little else. his home is surrounded by faults in the ground, as well as oil and gas activity, a volatile combination. >> so i monitor it about 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. have ever since this was put in here. >> how have the earthquakes affected your home, the area
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here? >> destroyed it. you want to know the truth about it you can't fix it. that was all caused by that 3.3 and three 3's in one night. one night. the whole house went pfff. i'm telling you there's a fault 750 feet that way and one that way and the earthquake was right there. it just went nuts that night, i mean, crazy. it's what i call a seismic storm. there was 52 incidents in two and half hours. and it just went chooooo!! chooo! chouuu!! >> like lightning in a thunderstorm. >> underground, yeah. this is called the war room. there's the seismometer. >> look at that. >> that's something different than what you're used to seeing. >> over the last few years, mark says he's experienced hundreds of earthquakes. >> now is that right now? >> yep. that's live. >> so how many have there been today? >> if you want to count em all. there's 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
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>> these faults are sitting there and they're pressed together, okay? and as long as you leave them alone, everything's fine. but, all you gotta do is take one of those little suckers and trigger that thing just a little bit. if that thing slips 10 or 15 or 20 miles, one of those faults does, you've had it. this state will go back to the stone age in about 3 seconds. >> in 2015 alone, the state recorded more than 800 earthquakes of magnitude 3 point 0 or greater. in the middle of our interview, two earthquakes struck nearby. >> hey we got something. >> we got a 4 somethin'... let me look at it. that's damn near 5. that's pretty big. let me get a hold of angela. that's a pretty big earthquake. these are, this is a seismic storm going on right now.
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>> to understand what's causing oklahoma's man-made earthquakes, you have to know how oil and gas are produced here. >> it's a common misperception that fracking is causing the earthquakes when in fact it's really a very different part of the process, right? >> right. fracking's not causing these earthquakes; fracking is a simple process of cracking rocks to produce oil and gas. >> fracking has also been linked to earthquakes, but on a much smaller scale; oklahoma's earthquakes are associated with a different process, called wastewater injection. the state's oil fields are saturated with water which co-exists naturally with oil and gas. >> in oklahoma, our oil reservoirs have a lot of water. and so when we produce oil and gas out of them, we have water to dispose of. >> for each barrel of oil brought up out of the ground, 10 or more barrels of water come with it. after the oil is separated, the water has to go somewhere; it's
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put back underground in disposal wells. >> back in the 1930's we decided the best place to put it was deep in the ground about a mile down. problem is, is that our volumes have increased and our rates have increased, and now what we have is pressure hitting faults and making earthquakes. >> so, i did some calculations. there's a lake in the middle of oklahoma city called lake hefner. and so it's about two of those lakes per year, going down into the ground. and that's helped people understand, you're gonna drain out an entire lake a couple times, and shove it into a formation a mile down. >> we wanted to see the wastewater injection process for ourselves. so we met up with angela spotts who helped start a group called stop fracking payne county; she took us on a drive on the outskirts of stillwater. >> this is a commercial injection well, where the trucks pull in that bay, and they open up the back of their truck and
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the produced water comes flying out. >> here comes a truck. >> yes. the oil will get separated, and i believe, land here, but otherwise it's going to be injected into the arbuckle. some of the injection wells are not as deep, but this one is. the scary part is, this happens all day long. so we have four wells and an injection well, brought to us by devon, which is one of the larger companies in town. that's who has been some of the biggest in the fight at the city council. devon would tell us how great this was going to be and that they would be trying to put a well pad on every square mile. and they'd show the map and it was blood red. and we have done everything at the capitol to stop renewable energy. and it's like living in industrialized countryside. i mean, it's "okie frack land". it's very alarming. >> the number of earthquakes in
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oklahoma has gone up nearly every year for the last six years. by the end of 2015, seismologists predict that the state will have experienced over 5,000 of them. >> the people in oklahoma are walking the plank, blindfolded with their hands behind their back. there's nobody governing the state. nobody. who gave any corporation or person the authority to destroy your life and your home and so on? a lot of people are being hurt bad by this. i'm telling you, what you gotta understand is the earth is constantly moving here right now. constantly moving. it never stops. 24/7. shakin' all the time. you think it goes away, it doesn't go away. it keeps on shaking. >> from rural midwest to war-torn mideast.
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she went for the money and found a greater calling...
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>> oklahoma is an oil state. from its discovery in the 19th century to the present, its influence is everywhere. there's even a working oil well at the state capitol. >> go in the capitol and look up and tell me how many oil and gas companies have corporate sponsorships on the side of the rotunda. i guess that'll probably answer your question about where we are right now. >> cory williams of stillwater is one of a few state representatives that has raised his voice about the ongoing earthquakes. between 2009 and 2014, the state legislature did not pass any earthquake-related bills.
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>> you know, some days i come to work and i feel like. i work in the devon energy house of representatives. i send my bills over to the continental resources senate-- only to go down to the oklahoma independent petroleum association office of the governor. >> in 2015, williams proposed two bills, but got little support. meanwhile, lawmakers passed a bill that protects oil and gas companies from local regulation. >> we show a tremendous amount of deference to the industry. they're the number one job producer in the state. and people have just become so loath to do anything that might even appear to harm oil and gas, to the detriment of pretty much everything else. we are jeopardizing life, safety and property in the state solely for the profits of oil and gas right now. >> for oklahomans, 2011 marked a turning point in the conversation about earthquakes. that november, a 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck near prague, oklahoma, causing significant
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damage. it was the biggest earthquake in over 60 years. within just a few months, scientists at the u.s. geological survey suggested that oklahoma's earthquakes could be tied to the production of oil and gas. but oklahoma was in denial. >> so you had a constant stream of conversation that it was natural. that's when you realized the state was controlled by oil and gas, and that we were having trouble even being honest about what caused that quake. >> emails reveal that after the earthquake, the governor's office used talking points supplied by an oil company, devon energy. the main talking point repeated by state officials was that there was no evidence that oil and gas operations had anything to do with the earthquakes. >> that doesn't make you feel good. it doesn't give you the warm fuzzies that there is enough of a separation between industry and government. and if you're letting the industry direct messaging, then yeah, the science isn't ever gonna come out. because the science isn't in their favor.
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>> despite overwhelming scientific evidence tying the earthquakes to oil and gas, it still seems like industry officials continue to cast doubt. >> i think i've heard the association say, "well, earthquakes have always been in oklahoma," i think the exact line was, "oklahoma's always been earthquake country". >> that is correct. >> oklahoma will experience close to 1,000 earthquakes this year, that's predicted by the ogs. so last year there were 585 earthquakes that were reported. that's more than the last 35 years combined. does it seem disingenuous to say, "well, it's always been earthquake country"? >> it's easy to draw that conclusion. doesn't necessarily mean that it's right. >> can you describe to us your level of concern about what's happening here now? >> level of concern... (sigh) having-- having a three, you know, it's kind of a so what? you know, if i was sure that there was never gonna be anything bigger than a three that wasn't naturally occurring-- my blood pressure
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would probably go down a lot. >> the oklahoma geological survey is the official state agency tasked with studying the earthquakes. it's based at the university of oklahoma, a public institution that relies heavily on private funding, in part, from the oil and gas industry. if there's anyone who's been at the center of oklahoma's earthquake debate - it's austin holland, the head seismologist. >> this is unprecedented in the geological sciences. we're looking at something well beyond the scale of anything we understand or have seen in the past. >> even though the u.s. geological survey had drawn a connection between earthquakes and wastewater disposal by 2012, the state's scientists lagged behind. >> so then when did you get the science finally? >> 2013 was basically when we started goin', "oh, there's just
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no way". and so by early 2014... fits hitting the shan, you know, we're done talking about any of this being natural. there are still naturally-occurring earthquakes in oklahoma. but they're so few and far between we don't even need to talk about those. so this is one of these areas where current science meets political and social realms, very similar to climate change. >> in 2013 the oklahoma geological survey issued a joint statement with federal scientists at the u.s. geological survey, linking the earthquakes to injection wells. shortly thereafter, holland was summoned into a meeting with university president david boren and oil baron harold hamm. hamm questioned him about his research. >> it was expressed to me that i have the academic freedom to do what i want. but academic freedom and the
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freedom to say whatever, whenever, and to whoever i want. those are two different things. >> harold hamm is one of the single largest donors to the university, having contributed over $30 million. >> president boren sits on the board of hamm's oil company, continental resources. in the meeting, hamm expressed his concerns about how talk of man-made earthquakes could look bad for the industry. >> he basically said you have to watch how you say things. >> do you think it's appropriate that harold hamm is tellin' you that you need to be careful how you say things? >> well, there are a lot of people that were tellin' me i need to be careful how i say things. >> hamm declined our request for comment. it wasn't the only time holland faced pressure. in february 2014, a university dean, larry grillot, who has never worked for the oklahoma geological survey, wrote a position paper for the agency which concluded that the majority of oklahoma's recent earthquakes appear to be
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natural. while the statement came from outside of the geological survey, austin holland was asked to sign off on it. >> i tried to get rid of everything i couldn't stomach. but i thought this took us backwards, right? in february of 2014, i coulda issued a statement that reads a lot like it did in april of this year, saying, "the vast majority of these earthquakes are very likely to be caused by saltwater disposal". i mean, i coulda issued that statement then, i had the scientific backing to support that statement. and to me, this was to slow things down. right? to give the deniers more time to deny. >> the timing of the statement raised questions. emails show that the university was seeking a $25 million dollar grant from continental
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resources. meanwhile, dean grillot was sitting on the board of another oil company. >> certainly the dean of the college that directly oversees the o.g.s. being a board member of an energy company, i see that as probably a clear conflict of interest. those that have financial interests in these companies, in one fashion or another, may be more reluctant to say we have a real problem and a crisis on our hands than those that don't. >> hello? >> hi, good morning, larry grillot? >> yes. >> hey my name's josh rushing i was wondering if we could get you on camera for an interview, we're in town this week. >> no, i'm not going to, i don't have any further comments about anything. >> hey, why in 2000--. i'm retired and i'm gonna stay retired. >> yeah, but why in 2014 were you still claiming that the majority of oklahoma's earthquakes were natural? >> i have no comment. >> can you at least explain that?
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>> i have no comment. >> what about it looking like a conflict of interest that you're on the board of an oil company at the same time that you were writing that position paper? >> i don't have any comment about that. >> no comment, there's nothing that you want to say about this? larry? are you there? >> no comment. >> even though we're in here, we're still human. >> how harsh conditions affect people on both sides of the bars. >> why did scott take his own life? >> the jail. >> some people might be scared to speak out but i'm not. i'm telling the truth.
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>> it took over three years for the oklahoma geological survey to publicly come to the same
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conclusion that much of the scientific community had already reached. in april 2015, the ogs finally put out its strongest statement yet linking the earthquakes to injection wells. governor fallin called the statement "significant". among industries, oil and gas was the biggest contributor to the governor's campaign -- giving her nearly a million dollars. >> why did it take you so long to acknowledge the connection between the earthquakes and the oil and gas industry? >> well actually we acknowledged it quite a bit ago, because we wanted to wait and have scientific information based on facts, not just on hearsay. >> but as recently as february 2015, governor fallin was calling for more evidence that the earthquakes were man-made, not just naturally occurring.
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>> when the governor comes out and says, "we're waiting on the science," when secretary teague comes out and says, "we're waiting on the science," we're not waiting on the science, we're waiting on our science. we're waiting to find some science that agrees with what it is we want to believe. and we just haven't been able to find it. >> this year, oklahoma cut the budgets of the two state agencies dealing with the earthquakes, the oklahoma geological survey and the oklahoma corporation commission. the occ is the state's oil and gas regulatory body; while it's shut down some wells and reduced volumes and depths of others, the rate of earthquakes continues to rise. >> our biggest challenge has been resources. how do we get our hands around all this data? how many people do we have? a year ago, the answer was, "oh, let's see. none". >> so this is a crisis situation. >> it's something that has to have the top priority that we have. and it has to have... everything we have. but when we call up o.g.s.
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and they can't get their computers to come up, that's a problem. >> last year we recorded or were actually able to locate more than 5,000 earthquakes. and we probably had another 10,000 that our systems have identified that we didn't have a chance to look at. so these are the work horses. this thing pulls in data from all the seismic stations we observe. >> so we asked austin to show us the big computer control room. and in the back, there's a computer sitting on a table. that's the server that all this is depending on. and it's kinda hard to believe for all the state's resources, that one computer on that desk in that broom closet in the basement of a building, that's it. >> well, when you say, "for all the state's resources," what resources has the state put towards the problem? i mean, resources typically implies an investment of money.
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and oklahoma as a state has not made an investment of money. they've given occ $250k which is less than some of my research projects. and they've given the ogs i think $50k but that doesn't count the amount they took outta their budgets when they cut their budgets. so when you say an investment of state resources a server in a closet's actually it's probably about as good as it's gonna get. >> holland says that because of a lack of resources, he's had no time for research. but time and again, the governor and the industry have said that they're waiting on him to deliver the science. >> i spoke to a homeowner in oklahoma. and he said, "you know, i think that the amount of resources you're getting is a clear conspiracy to keep you from actually doing the work that you need to do". and i don't have any way to refute that. >> i mean, there's no conspiracy
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to pull resources away from them so that they can't do it. but there is a shortfall of resources across the board. i mean, every agency is looking for more resources. >> michael teague is the secretary of energy and environment, a position the governor combined in 2013, raising questions about the state's relationship with the oil and gas industry. >> everyone's waiting for austin holland to write his report. but we're not giving him the resources to do it. i mean, he literally said, he didn't have time to write a single report the entire time that he was there. >> so i would say that again, it's not targeted towards the geologic survey to pull resources. so everybody's budgets were cut last year. i mean, across the board. >> and are they all claiming the same kind of crisis level that the earthquakes seem to be producing? >> several of them. >> yeah? >> yeah. >> you compare it to 700 earthquakes a year, any of them? >> i'm not sayin' it's logical, rational, or i agree with it. but, yes, i mean, people make the claim that their agency, and their cuts, are the most important thing, and that's where the resources need to be focused. >> seismologists have warned of the growing possibility that a magnitude 6.0 or greater
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earthquake could hit the state. >> what if a 6.5 isn't enough? how many lives have to be lost? there's a term that many of us are starting to use. we're the sacrifice zone. >> why would you take a risk on a 7 or better earthquake. or even a 6. why would you do it? it has to be god awful greed. >> i did often feel like i was you know just all by myself, flapping in the breeze. and really hung out there all on my own. >> in august, austin holland resigned as head seismologist of the oklahoma geological survey. we were with him on his last day. >> i've infuriated people within the university. i've infuriated people within the oil and gas industry. i've infuriated politicians on both sides of the spectrum and the aisle.
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>> holland leaves behind a state in which the earthquake rate continues to rise. not long after he announced his departure, his colleague amberlee darold, did the same. now, oklahoma, the most seismically active state in the continental us, is left without a state seismologist.
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