Did This Map Get the Ohio State Geologist Fired?

Larry Wickstrom ODNRSpeculation has run rampant about why Ohio’s official state geologist, Larry Wickstrom, chief of the ODNR’s Division of Geological Survey, was fired in May. Much of that speculation revolves around a PowerPoint presentation he created in March which essentially redrew the lines of where the best/most likely areas in the state would be to drill for oil and natural gas. A copy of Wickstrom’s full presentation, which has a lot of interesting maps and details, is embedded below.

The controversy seems to revolve around one particular map in the presentation (see the map immediately below). The map redrew boundary lines for the best drilling locations, in Wickstrom’s estimation, based on the data. Wickstrom has worked for the ODNR for 29 years. He’s a smart guy. But his map upset the apple cart for some, and less than two months later, he got his walking papers.

Click on map for larger version

Utica-Point Pleasant Core Play Area in Ohio - Map

Overnight, places like Athens County, OH which had a high level of leasing activity, saw that activity disappear. If you look at the map, they’re now outside of “the zone.”

So was it the map that got Wickstrom canned?

IN EARLY MAY, the main author of the ODNR map, Wickstrom, a 29-year employee of Ohio’s Division of Geological Survey, lost his job.

In an email to selected colleagues and contacts on May 21, Wickstrom wrote, "For those who may not yet know, I was removed from the position of Division Chief and State Geologist about one and a half weeks ago. I guess the best way to put it is that I have a different vision of what a state geological survey should do than the current ODNR administration."

Asked earlier this week about Wickstrom’s departure, Bethany McCorkle, deputy chief of communications with the ODNR, issued a prepared statement from ODNR Director James Zehringer. He announced a national search for Wickstrom’s replacement, and thanked him for his service. "Larry will continue to provide valuable guidance and assistance to the division and will return to the classified service," Zehringer said. "Larry is a true professional and has offered to assist interim chief Mac Swinford in any way possible to ensure a seamless transition to new management."

On Monday, The NEWS asked Wickstrom about his departure from the ODNR, a year shy of his 30 years with the agency. Wickstrom said he wasn’t ready to discuss his exit from the agency: "I’m just preparing for retirement."

Wickstrom declined to say whether his leaving the ODNR had anything to do with the redrawn Utica map or his statements about it. "It wasn’t any one thing," he said. (This interview came more than a week after Wickstrom’s aforementioned email to colleagues and sources.)

SO DID "THE MAP" RUFFLE industry, legislative and/or administrative feathers enough to result in Wickstrom’s firing?

Who knows?  It’s not at all clear how the map might have hurt or benefited all the various role players in Ohio’s ongoing oil and gas drama. The cast of characters, and their complex motivations and inter-connections, make the convoluted HBO series, "Game of Thrones," seem like a high-school play.

Not in any doubt is the fact that Wickstrom’s most high-profile performance in the Ohio oil and gas drama – his public release of a game-changing deep-shale study and map – preceded his termination by less than two months.*

*The Athens (OH) News (Jun 6, 2012) – ‘The Map’ and the state geologist’s firing: Any link?