The oil and gas industry is often blamed for increased seismic activity across the United States. A recent earthquake has again sparked a debate regarding the alleged connection between hydraulic fracturing and seismic activity.

On September 3 2016 a 5.6-magnitude earthquake occurred in Oklahoma. The epicentre was located nine miles northwest of Pawnee, Oklahoma, but reports suggested that several states felt its impact. Following the earthquake, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) issued an order to shut down wastewater disposal wells within a 500 square-mile radius of the epicentre. OCC officials anticipate that the shutdown will affect 35 wastewater disposal wells.

Scientists and organisations have studied potential causes of the increased seismic activity. While some argue that all wastewater disposal wells in Oklahoma should be investigated to ensure that the wells are not close to fault lines or areas with high levels of seismic activity, others have urged states to encourage the oil and gas industry to develop alternative forms of wastewater disposal. Ohio has implemented some of these suggestions by prohibiting deep injection wells close to fault lines.

Despite the suggestions that increased seismic activity is the result of the use of wastewater disposal wells in hydraulic fracturing operations, the wastewater in the disposal wells consists primarily of saltwater, not the fluids used in hydraulic fracturing.

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For further information on this topic please contact Barclay Richard Nicholson or Johnjerica Hodge at Norton Rose Fulbright LLP's Houston office by telephone (+1 713 651 5151) or email ( or The Norton Rose Fulbright website can be accessed at