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A public school district in central Oklahoma canceled classes today in order to assess the damage from the magnitude 5.0 earthquake that rocked the prairie town of Cushing on Sunday evening.
The Cushing Police Department said the trembler caused “quite a bit of damage,” particularly in and around Cushing’s century-old downtown. A number of brick facades had collapsed, and windowpanes in several buildings shattered. Photos posted to social media show piles of debris at the base of commercial buildings in the city of about 7,900.
Earthquakes have become common in the region, which scientists attribute to the proliferation of fracking operations.
In early September, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency after a magnitude 5.6 earthquake struck the area. That quake tied the state’s all-time record, set in 2011. It shook parts of the Midwest and was felt from Houston to North Dakota. Six after-shocks followed the quake, including one that registered 3.6.
According to federal data, there have been 19 earthquakes in Oklahoma in the past week alone.
An increase in earthquakes measuring 3.0 or higher in Oklahoma has paralleled the growing volume of underground wastewater disposal from oil and natural gas production by fracking. Scientists believe the high-power injections of water into the earth alter stresses that hold geologic faults together and let them slip, unleashing the quakes. But oil industry and government officials deny that hydraulic fracking is causing the quakes.
Oilmen have pressured scientists and geologists at local universities not to address the subject.
In parts of the state, the number of tremblers matches those in northern California. In 2014, Oklahoma surpassed California as the nation’s most quake-prone state.
Oklahoma’s quakes are shallow — five miles or less below the surface — while California’s go as deep as 400 miles. Deep surface earthquakes are stronger and more destructive.
Oklahomans have a complicated relationship with the fracking industry. An estimated one in six workers in the state owes their paycheck either directly or indirectly to the industry. But fears about the growing frequency and magnitude of the seismic events have alarmed large numbers of residents.