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New Oklahoma Geological Survey director to help state investigate and promote the wise use of the state's natural resources

An Oklahoma Geological Survey field technician installs a seismometer near Quartz Mountain in 2018. [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]
An Oklahoma Geological Survey field technician installs a seismometer near Quartz Mountain in 2018. [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]

The Oklahoma Geological Survey is best known these days for keeping its finger on the pulse of the state’s shaky ground.

But the survey’s mission goes far beyond just monitoring seismicity, and new director Nicholas Hayman plans to leverage the same types of partnerships the survey used to address that issue to explore others that are part of the “science frontier.”

Hayman, a New York City native, joined the survey in July after spending about two years directing a marine geology and geophysics program at the National Science Foundation.

Between 2007 and this year, he also was a lecturer, research associate and then research scientist at the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas in Austin.

Hayman replaced former director Jeremy Boak, who retired at the end of 2019.

Since the beginning

The survey isn’t as old as the geology it pokes and prods with research, but it has fulfilled its role for as long as Oklahoma has been a state.

It is the only geological survey in the nation created by a state constitution, and was formally established by an act signed into law by Gov. Charles N. Haskell on May 29, 1908.

As director of the survey, Hayman reports to Kenneth Wagner, Oklahoma’s Secretary of Energy and Environment.

The survey’s duties include investigating Oklahoma’s land, water, mineral, and energy resources and to disseminate what it finds to promote the wise use of Oklahoma's natural resources in a manner consistent with sound environmental practices.

Before it moved hard into studying the earthquake issue, it already was deeply involved in looking at the state’s geology related to energy resources, with its records and research used extensively by not only academics, but companies pursuing oil, natural gas and coal in various areas around the state.

It expanded a core and sample library established in 1937 into the Oklahoma Petroleum Information Center in 2002. The center, located at the university’s airport, houses more than 300,000 cores from wells drilled in Oklahoma and elsewhere as far back as the 1920s. The building also houses the survey’s publication sales office and an extensive library of petroleum data for Oklahoma.

The survey also studies nonfuel mineral resources, including clays, shales, limestone and dolomites, crushed stone, copper, bentonite, salt, gypsum, uranium, helium, and iodine, something domestically produced only in Oklahoma.

Work the survey completes helps architects and engineers find sites for structures and roads and is a critical aid in finding materials used to build things, including dimension stone, crushed rock, and gypsum, a key ingredient in the manufacture of Sheetrock.

Looking ahead

Hayman arrived already impressed with the decades of work the survey successfully accomplished in both building trust with the public and in working with the state’s energy industry, especially the past decade as it worked with it and state regulators to get a handle on Oklahoma’s seismicity issues.

He credited its ability to respond to that crisis to efforts undertaken by both Boak and Jake Walter, Oklahoma’s seismologist, to build Oklahoma’s network of seismometers from just two that it had a dozen years ago to the dozens it has deployed today.

“We can really see the earthquakes, where they are happening three-dimensionally, and that helps us to analyze why and when they happen,” Hayman said. “But that isn’t the end of the road. More challenges are ahead dealing with the environment.”

Hayman observed that some seismometers the survey deployed were obtained through relationships developed with the U.S. Geological Survey and other organizations.

He said a goal of his is to leverage those same types of relationships to boost the amount of future research the survey could do, involving carbon, alternative energy, and geographic and resource analyses.

Hayman observed that any rejuvenation of activity in those areas could potentially generate new economic growth that could put back to work at least some people who have lost oil-and-gas sector jobs.

‘Science frontier’

“More challenges are ahead when you think about dealing with the environment. There are a lot of things going on nationally, in terms of CO2 and climate change. There is a carbon economy developing, both nationally and internationally, that offers opportunities to use geosciences expertise to balance the carbon budget, if not reduce it,” Hayman said.

“And on top of that, there are other energies that are at play, both in terms of secondary recovery in terms of classic oil and gas operations and in dealing with things like hydrogen. There are a variety of other efforts ranging from geothermal to biofuels.”

Hayman said research into alternative energy sources already is well underway at the University of Oklahoma where the survey is headquartered at the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, and at other schools across the state.

The survey, meanwhile, has to maintain the public’s trust and maintain a working relationship with Oklahoma’s energy industry while it makes enough money to ensure its future viability.

“Because the survey lives in a university and has a state agency role, I believe that it can work to develop and bring in dollars to boost research into some of those more exotic opportunities that, in 10 years, aren’t going to seem very exotic.

“I kind of view it as more of a science frontier mission.”

Related Photos


<figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Hayman " title=" Hayman "><figcaption> Hayman </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - An Oklahoma Geological Survey field technician installs a seismometer near Quartz Mountain in 2018. [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] " title=" An Oklahoma Geological Survey field technician installs a seismometer near Quartz Mountain in 2018. [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] "><figcaption> An Oklahoma Geological Survey field technician installs a seismometer near Quartz Mountain in 2018. [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] </figcaption></figure>
Jack Money

Jack Money has worked for The Oklahoman for more than 20 years. During that time, he has worked for the paper’s city, state, metro and business news desks, including serving for a while as an assistant city editor. Money has won state and regional... Read more ›