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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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.

Charles Lord, senior hydrologist with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, explains the modified and expanded emergency orders issued Sept. 12 to oil companies in response to  the 5.8-magnitude earthquake over the Labor Day weekend.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Federal and state regulators on Monday expanded and modified emergency orders limiting oil and gas activity at wells near a fault line that produced Oklahoma’s strongest earthquake on record.

Regulators are targeting 67 disposal wells in two counties near the damaging 5.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked the state over the Labor Day weekend.

Mona Denney surveys earthquake damage inside her home near Pawnee, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The U.S. Geological Survey is upgrading the strength of an earthquake that shook the state on Sept. 3 to 5.8 magnitude. That change makes the Labor Day weekend temblor the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Oklahoma. The quake is the latest in a seismic surge researchers say has largely been fueled by the oil industry practice of pumping waste fluid into underground disposal wells.

The City of Bethany is suing a pair of aerospace companies after a “plume” of hazardous chemicals migrating from an airport manufacturing plant contaminated public water supplies and forced the city to shut down a pair of municipal water wells.

In the federal lawsuit, filed Aug. 31 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, the city claims Rockwell Automation and Gulfstream Aerospace owned and operated an aircraft manufacturing facility at Wiley Post Airport contaminated with toxic solvents and degreasers containing trichloroethene and tetrachloroethene, which have been detected in municipal wells at levels exceeding federal limits.

NextEra Renewable Energy Resources' wind farm near Elk City, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

An organization opposed to wind power incentives says payouts could total $5.2 billion by 2030 if Oklahoma’s zero-emissions tax credit continues, “an amount the wind industry said is highly inflated,” The Oklahoman’s Paul Monies reports:

A quarry near Ada filled with water from the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality has ordered city officials in Ada to make a series of fixes to ensure the community has clean drinking water after 2,000 gallons of diesel spilled on the ground near city water wells in April of 2015.

Donald Trump at a campaign stop at the Oklahoma State Fair in September 2015.
Brian Hardzinski / KGOU

Donald Trump is wooing energy-state voters by promising a presidency that will champion coal, promote drilling and free frackers from federal regulations limiting oil and gas development.

If the Republican candidate’s energy platform sounds like it was written specifically for fossil fuel companies, that’s because an Oklahoma oil billionaire helped craft it.

Donald Trump delivered his first major speech on U.S. energy policy at a petroleum conference in the capital city of one the country’s most oil-rich states, Bismark, North Dakota.

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