KGOU

Joe Wertz

Reporter for StateImpact Oklahoma

Joe has previously served as Managing Editor of Urban Tulsa Weekly, as the Arts & Entertainment Editor at Oklahoma Gazette and worked as a Staff Writer for The Oklahoman. Joe was a weekly correspondent for KGOU from 2007-2010. He grew up in Bartlesville, Okla., lives in Oklahoma City, and studied journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma.

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New Research Questions Forecasted Earthquake Slowdown

Aug 18, 2017
An oil well near a neighborhood in Yukon, Okla.
Becky McCray / Flickr Creative Commons

A new research paper suggests Oklahoma’s earthquake hazard might not taper off as quickly or as significantly as scientists previously predicted.

The energy industry practice of pumping toxic waste-fluid byproducts of oil and gas production into underground disposal wells is thought to be fueling Oklahoma’s earthquake surge. This activity peaked in 2015 and slowed due to regulations and low oil prices.

Bill Davis / Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

A temporary mass migration that could reach into the millions is expected as people across the United States relocate to catch a prime view of the country’s first coast-to-coast total eclipse in nearly a century.

Electricians complete last-minute work at Newfield's Barton Water Recycling Facility near Calumet, Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A key part in solving the state’s earthquake crisis is the long-term management of an enormous amount of oil-field wastewater likely triggering the shaking. The energy industry is working to solve this billion-barrel-a-year problem, and one promising alternative to risky disposal wells is reusing wastewater instead of pumping it underground.

An earthquake of preliminary magnitude 4.2 hit central Oklahoma on Wednesday night, the U.S. Geological Survey said, the sixth earthquake to affect the area in just over 24 hours.

Four hours later, a less intense earthquake of a preliminary magnitude 3.5 struck the area in the early hours of Thursday.

Susan Holmes stands on the front porch of her home in Bokoshe, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The tiny community of Bokoshe is flanked by old mines, which companies are filling with thousands of tons of waste produced by the coal-fired power plant down the road.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, promoted investment in infrastructure in a day-long tour that included a stop at the Frederick Regional Airport.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A cornerstone of President Trump’s campaign and presidency is a $1 trillion proposal to rebuild U.S. infrastructure. The promise is a popular one, and could find bipartisan support across the country and in Congress. The infrastructure needs in Oklahoma illustrate why this issue is so appealing — and challenging.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Oil’s Pipeline To America’s Schools

Jun 15, 2017
Illustration by Eben McCue

Jennifer Merritt’s first-graders at Jefferson Elementary School in Pryor, Oklahoma, were in for a treat. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, the students gathered in late November for story time with two special guests, state Rep. Tom Gann and state Sen. Marty Quinn.

A demonstrator holds up seven fingers to send a message to a House committee that lawmakers should remove discounts and incentives so all oil and gas wells are taxed at 7 percent.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma lawmakers have struggled for months to agree on a formula to patch a nearly $900 million budget hole and sign off on a plan that funds state agencies. To help pay for the budget plan, lawmakers are considering ways to squeeze more from taxes on oil and gas production, an option that has divided politicians and one of the state’s biggest industries.

 Lawmakers sit in the House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget on Tuesday night.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Lawmakers got their first peek at Oklahoma’s budget last night in a haphazard midnight session senior legislators described as the most disjointed in their career.

House and Senate committee members had mere minutes to review the proposed $6.9 billion dollar budget before voting on two versions of the state spending plan.

The bills are nearly identical. One would give teachers a $1,000 pay raise. Both deliver funding cuts for most state agencies. Sixteen agencies, including the Departments of Education and Transportation, are in line for flat budgets.

A long line of cattle are herded into a semi-trailer at Oklahoma National Stockyards in Oklahoma City.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A former accountant and compliance officer for the Oklahoma Beef Council faces federal bank fraud and false tax return charges after an probe into suspected embezzlement of more than $2.6 million.

Pete Brown of Kingfisher oil company Brown & Borelli and former Tulsa mayor Dewey Bartlett of Keener Oil and Gas speak out against legislation to expand horizontal drilling at a Oklahoma Energy Producers Alliance media event.
Joe Wertz / State Impact Oklahoma

Oklahoma oil executives have argued for years over a new law that would let companies drill and frack longer horizontal wells in new areas.

Right now, companies with leases in non-shale rock formations can’t drill horizontal wells more than a mile long. This one-mile limit is frustrating many of the most active drillers in Oklahoma, who say companies, shareholders, mineral owners and the state’s tax coffers are missing out on millions in new development from booming oil fields. The potential is a promising political incentive, given the state’s nearly $900 million budget hole.

Researchers Nate Stevens and Hannah Rabinowitz calibrate a seismometer near Pawnee, Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The strongest earthquake ever recorded in Oklahoma may have been triggered by oil and gas activity that started and stopped years before the shaking, newly published research suggests.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The most practical alternative to earthquake-triggering oilfield disposal wells is for energy companies to reuse the wastewater instead of injecting it underground, leaders of a research group working on behalf of the state said Wednesday.

Avoiding Injection

A dad and his daughter on the final stretch of the March for Science at the Oklahoma capitol on April 22, 2017.
Joe Wertz / State Impact Oklahoma

Oklahomans joined thousands of people in more than 600 cities on Saturday in a march for scientific freedom organized to send a message to state and national lawmakers.

Lights from a drilling rig near Watonga, Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The 2017 legislative session is beyond the halfway point and the clock is ticking on lawmakers who have until the end of May to set the state’s budget and plug an $870 million funding hole. Legislators say every option is on the table, including one with growing public support: Increasing taxes on oil and gas.

First, it was state Democrats like minority leader Scott Inman, who have long argued Oklahoma’s taxes are too generous for oil and gas companies.

Bob Kerr on his ranch near Carnegie, Okla., which is flanked by turbines from the Blue Canyon Wind Farm.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

 

One major tax incentive for wind energy remains on the books in Oklahoma. And the Legislature is poised to end it — more than three years early. The politics of renewable energy have changed as state revenues have failed, but some wind producers say lawmakers are reneging on a deal that sends a bad message to any industry considering investing in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma’s wind industry has grown year after year. With 3,400 turbines spread across 41 wind farm projects, the state ranks No. 3 in the nation in the American Wind Energy Association’s report on wind power capacity.

Guthrie Fire Chief Eric Harlow.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Crews have worked for more than a week to contain a massive wildfire that has torched more than a thousand square miles and killed one person and thousands of head of livestock in northwestern parts of Oklahoma. State budget cuts mean Oklahoma increasingly depends on other states to fight its largest and most dangerous wildfires.

A week after the fire started, state forestry director George Geissler oversaw the state’s response at a makeshift operations center at the Woodward County Fairgrounds.

A field medic raises her fist as protestors stand near a fire blocking a road along the Dakota Access Pipeline Route near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.
Oceti Sakowin Camp / CC BY-NC 2.0

Oklahoma legislators are advancing a bill that outlaws trespassing on sites containing “critical infrastructure.” Supporters say the measure will help prevent damage and disruption of energy markets, electric grids and water services, but environmental activists and civil rights groups say the bill’s real purpose is to block political protests of pipelines and similar projects.

‘A NUMBER ON MY ARM’

Oklahoma Supreme Court chambers
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has granted a request by the Attorney General’s office to delay a lower court’s order requiring the agency to turn over records sought by a watchdog group.

The Center for Media and Democracy sued the agency in February to force it to handover emails sent during the tenure of former attorney general Scott Pruitt, now administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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