State regulators have no jurisdiction over the region’s gas and oil producing facilities, as they are located on Osage Nation Native American tribal land. According to Matt Skinner, Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notified state officials of well closures on Tuesday.
"We've never had to do anything that directly involved Osage County, but on Saturday [the EPA] were quick to respond," Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Matt Skinner said. "They confirmed on Sunday they were going to put that directive in place, and today they gave us the numbers."
The town of Pawnee is close to the epicenter of the earthquake, and the shuttered wells are within a 211-square-mile area in Osage County. Eleven homes in the area reported damage. Emergency management officials noted that the Stillwater campus of Oklahoma State University sustained damage as well, though the buildings are safe for occupation. One man sustained a minor injury to his head after a piece of his fireplace fell during the earthquake.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) has ordered the closing of 37 additional wells in a 514-square-mile area near the epicenter.
Underground deposits of wastewater from natural gas and oil production — and the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" in particular — have been linked to an increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma, but regional EPA spokesman Joe Hubbard has not commented on the amount of wastewater present in the 17 closed wells, or given a reason why the wells were closed. The OCC has been asking the owners of wastewater wells to to dial back their waste since 2013.
Hubbard said in a statement, "We are working closely with the state of Oklahoma, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Osage Nation to evaluate available information and take appropriate next steps to protect public health and the environment."
The Osage Nation is one of Oklahoma’s largest counties, covering over 2,300 square miles, and the tribe controls all mineral rights to the land. Skinner said that several government agencies are collaborating to get a clearer picture of the earthquake’s environmental impact. "We have no data whatsoever on oil and gas activity in Osage County. We don't know how many (wells). We don't know how deep. We know nothing about them." he said.
Two aftershocks took place northwest of the 5.6 temblor epicenter on Tuesday, with magnitudes of 4.1 and 3.6.