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State of emergency declared in Oklahoma after record earthquake

Oklahoma’s governor on Saturday declared a state of emergency for Pawnee County located near the epicenter of one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded in the state.

The 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck Saturday morning about 8 miles northwest of Pawnee City, damaging buildings, shaking food from shelves in local supermarkets and sending shock waves through several Midwestern states.

Gov. Mary Fallin said in a statement that no injuries were reported and damage was limited, though the state of emergency designation for Pawnee County would open up funding for disaster relief and emergency preparedness and could bring in federal aid.

Saturday’s earthquake equaled another 5.6 earthquake recorded in 2011 in Oklahoma’s Lincoln County, the largest ever documented in the state.

Oklahoma has seen a rapid rise in the number of earthquakes over the last six years, which scientists link to the use of wastewater by the oil and gas industry.

While the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is often associated with the uptick in Oklahoma earthquakes, some studies show earthquakes may instead be caused by companies pulling gas and oil from water found underground, then back into the earth through disposal wells.

Historically, the state saw just two magnitude 3 earthquakes or higher per year prior to 2009, though that number surged to more than 900 in 2015 after domestic production of oil and gas increased along with the amount of wastewater.

Earlier this year, state regulators curbed the amount of wastewater that the oil and gas industry can inject thousands of feet into the Arbuckle formation, a sedimentary rock layer found under Oklahoma that rests above fault lines. 

On Saturday, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which is in charge of regulating the state’s oil and gas industry, began halting the use of 37 additional disposal wells across 725-square miles in the area surrounding the earthquake’s epicenter.

Fallin said the state also will work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has “sole jurisdiction” over disposal wells in another nearby county.

“Information on the earthquake is still being collected, and will be reviewed by my coordinating council on seismic activity,” Fallin said

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