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.

Ways to Connect

An abandoned gas station near Edmond, Oklahoma.
Michael Kesler / Flicker/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Oklahoma lawmakers are staring into a budget hole that’s nearly $900 million deep — and they might not be able to cut their way out of it. Legislators are considering tax increases to help fund state government, and one idea is gaining traction: Hiking taxes on gasoline and diesel.

State taxes on motor fuel haven’t been touched since 1987. There are a lot of similarities between the situation then and what Oklahoma lawmakers now face: An economy shaken by low oil prices and dwindling revenue streams to fund state government.

Oklahoma Corporation Commission

Oklahoma oil and gas regulators on Tuesday released details on new guidelines created to reduce earthquakes triggered by hydraulic fracturing in two of the state’s most-booming oil and gas fields.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt arrives at Trump Tower in New York on December 7, 2016.
Andrew Harnik / AP

Donald Trump wants Scott Pruitt to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Oklahoma attorney general is a fierce ally of fossil fuel companies and one of the EPA’s biggest opponents. The nomination draws a sharp line dividing industry and environmentalists that could test the limits of another big fight: state sovereignty.

A Republican president created the EPA. Using words and phrases that, today, might jeopardize his career before it ever left a state GOP primary, Richard Nixon urged Congress to sign off on what he called his “environmental agenda.”

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Trucks lined up at a disposal well in northwestern Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s oil and gas regulator for the first time will issue guidelines designed to reduce earthquake activity linked to hydraulic fracturing.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt at the state capitol in 2016.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

President-elect Donald Trump has picked Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Earthquake damage in downtown Cushing after a 5.0 magnitude temblor struck the city November 6, 2016
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Attorneys are asking a district court judge to approve a class-action lawsuit against oil and gas companies after a 5.0-magnitude earthquake rattled near the town of Cushing in November. 

Monthly wastewater injection into disposal wells in the Arbuckle formation from 2000 to July 2016. A team of Stanford scientists found earthquake rate changes follow changes of the injection rate with a time delay of several months.
Science Advances

Scientists may have a promising seismic forecast for Oklahoma over the next few years: A lot less shaky with a smaller chance for damaging earthquakes.

Newly published research bolsters a growing body of scientific findings linking the state’s earthquake boom and the underground injection of large amounts of wastewater from oil and gas production, but suggests the shaking could taper off after 2016.

Donald Trump campaigning at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From board rooms to drilling rigs, much of the U.S. fossil fuel industry has been counting down the days until President Barack Obama turns over the keys of the White House. Donald Trump doesn’t officially take the wheel of the nation’s energy policy for a couple of months, but Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry says its prospects have already improved under the president-elect.

A drilling rig in northwestern Oklahoma's Mississippi Lime oil and gas play.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma legislators are under pressure to fund teacher raises and pay for health insurance coverage, workers comp, criminal justice initiatives and state prisons from a pool of money that could be $600 million short of what’s needed.

Earthquake damage at a home in rural Pawnee County, September 3, 2016.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Attorneys are asking a judge in Pawnee County to approve a class-action lawsuit against oil and gas companies after the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that shook the area in September.

Sarah Vap and her parents, Dave and Barbara Jacques on their farm and ranch in Osage County. The Jacques family strongly supports a 'yes' vote on State Question 777.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma voters on Tuesday soundly rejected State Question 777, a ballot measure that would have made farming and ranching a state constitutional right. The final tally was roughly 60 percent against and 40 percent in favor of the amendment — a difference of more than 290,000 votes.

Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson at the 'No on 777' watch party at Aloft Hotel in Oklahoma City.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma voters on Tuesday rejected State Question 777 — known by supporters as the right-to-farm amendment. The final vote was 60-40 against the measure, which would’ve elevated farming and ranching to a constitutional right.

Sarah Vap and her parents, Dave and Barbara Jacques on their farm and ranch in Osage County. The Jacques family strongly supports a 'yes' vote on State Question 777.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

When Oklahoma voters go to the polls next week, they’ll decide on State Question 777, known by supporters as the right-to-farm amendment. The measure would make farming and ranching a constitutional right and make it harder for the Legislature to enact laws that further regulate the agriculture industry.

The ballot question seems simple on the surface: Do you support the right to farm? The answer for many Oklahomans, however, is more complex. Environmental and legal considerations complicate the issue, and it has become very culturally and politically polarizing.

Graphic showing stress change after the 5.1-magnitude earthquake that struck near Fairview in February 2016.
American Geophysical Union

Wastewater injection into clusters of high-rate disposal wells likely triggered a 5.1-magnitude earthquake that struck western Oklahoma in February 2016, new research suggests.

A combine crew from South Dakota harvests wheat near Altus in southwest Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Support for State Question 777, which would make farming and ranching a constitutional right in Oklahoma, has slipped in recent weeks, according to a SoonerPoll survey commissioned by The Oklahoman.

Goats on a farm near Covington, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

State Question 777 would create a constitutional right to farm and ranch in Oklahoma, giving the agriculture industry unique protection from the state legislature. The ballot question concerns livestock and crops, but legal experts say the statewide measure will likely come down to lawsuits and courts.

In the weeks leading up to the November election, officials in cities and towns across the state have urged Oklahomans to vote no on SQ 777.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency say Oklahoma oil and gas regulators should “consider a moratorium” of waste-fluid disposal in its most seismically active areas.

The suggestion was made in the federal agency’s annual review of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s oversight of disposal wells, which Energy Wire’s Mike Soraghan obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request:

An amateur astronomer looks at chart on a red-filtered computer monitor at the 2016 Okie-Tex Star Party near Oklahoma's Black Mesa State Park.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Panhandle is empty and hard to get to. The region attracts few people, very little industry and none of the light pollution that accompany both. It’s a remote location that’s earning a national reputation as the perfect spot to stare deep into space.

Terry Zimmerman adjusts the eyepiece on the 12.5-inch f5 Dobsonian he built from a kit — technical talk for a telescope that’s so tall, you have to climb a stepladder to take a peek.

Farmers Wayne and Fred Schmedt watch a combine harvest wheat on their fields near Altus, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma voters will decide in November whether to change the state constitution with new language protecting the agriculture industry.

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