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ND oil tycoon called for Oklahoma scientists' dismissal, emails say

HOUSTON -- Harold Hamm, owner of one of North Dakota's top oil-producing companies, told a University of Oklahoma dean last year that scientists studying links between oil drilling and earthquakes should be dismissed, according to media reports.

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Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, speaks during the IHS CERAWeek 2015 energy conference in Houston, Texas April 21, 2015. REUTERS/Daniel Kramer
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HOUSTON - Harold Hamm, owner of one of North Dakota's top oil-producing companies, told a University of Oklahoma dean last year that scientists studying links between oil drilling and earthquakes should be dismissed, according to media reports.

In a report last week, Bloomberg, citing emails obtained through a public records request, said Hamm indicated he wanted to see some scientists at the Oklahoma Geological Survey let go.

According to the emails, Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources Inc., also expressed interest in joining a search committee to find the survey's new director and indicated he would be talking to the governor about moving the OGS out of the university.

Scientists there and elsewhere have said the reinjection of drilling and fracking wastewater into disposal wells could be tied to earthquakes. In Oklahoma, earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher have increased from about 1.6 a year before 2009 to 585 last year.

Bloomberg reported that a university spokeswoman denied any interference from Hamm, who has been a donor to the university. No changes were made to the university's team of scientists.

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A Continental spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

Hamm said at a February conference that there was no connection between oil and gas work and the rash of earthquakes in Oklahoma, where Continental is based.

As of March, Continental was the second-largest oil producer in the North Dakota Oil Patch.

UND connection

The University of North Dakota has also received funds from Harold Hamm-for a geology school that was named after him in 2012. A university spokesman said the oil tycoon has not interfered with research at UND.

"All of our interaction with Harold Hamm has been very positive," Peter Johnson said. "There's been no attempt in any way, shape or form to influence the research, other than providing funding to make it possible."

UND announced a $10 million gift from Hamm and his company, Continental Resources, in September 2012. The funds were for faculty pay, student scholarships and equipment to research new methods of oil and gas recovery, officials said at the time.

When asked about Hamm's contact with UND, Johnson said the university sends him annual reports on the Harold Hamm School of Geology.

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Forum reporter Grace Lyden contributed to this report.

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