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

The Chickasaw National Recreation Area in south-central Oklahoma is not a national park — but it used to be. And the story of what happened illustrates a changing view of what national parks are for.

For over a century, the area's mineral-rich springs have been a gathering point for locals, travelers and tribes that were forcibly relocated to land that later became Oklahoma, says Debbie Sharp, president of the Friends of Chickasaw National Recreation Area, a nonprofit group.

A natural gas compressor plant in northwestern Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Linn Energy needs a new compressor plant to serve customers in the SCOOP and STACK, hot oil and natural gas plays with very little infrastructure in place to collect and pump natural gas to existing pipeline systems.

Kids from a local youth organization laugh and splash in cold, spring-fed pools at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area near Sulphur, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The National Park Service turns 100 this year, and many states are celebrating top-tier environmental landmarks that are a big source of local pride. About half the U.S. states don’t have a national park — including Oklahoma.

That wasn’t always the case, and the story of what happened illustrates a changing view of what national parks are for.

Wind turbines at dusk
Samir Luther / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Oklahoma remained No. 4 in the U.S. in installed wind power capacity during the second quarter of 2016, but a national industry group expects the state to move up the ranks by the end of the year.

No new wind farms have been completed in recent months, according to a report from the American Wind Energy Association, but more than 1,100 megawatts are currently under construction, The Oklahoman’s Paul Monies reports:

An active aggregate mining operation near Mill Creek, Okla.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s four primary environmental agencies have lost more than $15 million in state appropriations and tens of millions of dollars in legislatively directed reductions to revolving funds, OETA reports.

A wind farm near Woodwoard and Harper Counties in northwestern Oklahoma.
Becky McCray / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association might push Oklahoma legislators to extend some of the rights afforded oil and natural gas properties to alternative forms of energy like wind and solar, the Journal Record’Brian Brus reports:

Oklahoma Department of Transportation engineers are testing an LED interchange light tower in the parking lot of the agency's Oklahoma City headquarters.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Cities across the state are hoping to cut down their electricity and maintenance bills by updating street and highway lights with new technology. LEDs save energy and money, but doctors say the lights could have unintended health and environmental consequences.

Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, speaks during the third day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Wednesday, July 20, 2016.
Mark J. Terrill / AP

Billionaire Oklahoma oilman Harold Hamm sharply criticized environmental regulations in a pro-Donald Trump speech on energy policy at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night.

The Continental Resources CEO's remarks came amid reports he would be named energy secretary if the Republican candidate is elected in November.

Fire crews work to reduce wildfire danger by clear brush through a prescribed burn in northwestern Oklahoma in April 2016.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Fire crews worked for nearly a week to contain a wildfire that started on March 22 and torched 574 square miles of land near the Oklahoma-Kansas state line, where it destroyed homes, killed livestock and damaged thousands of miles of fence.

Outside Susan Holmes' house in southeastern Oklahoma, visitors are welcomed by an entryway lined with oxygen bottles and a machine that collects and concentrates oxygen from the air.

"I take two inhalers twice a day," Holmes says. "And I have a nebulizer that I use four times a day, and I use oxygen at night."

She says her asthma returned when she moved to Bokoshe, a decaying town of about 500 people that is flanked by old coal mines. The huge pits have now been filled with hundreds of thousands of tons of coal ash.

Susan Holmes in the living room of her home in Bokoshe, Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma
Wheat farmer Fred Schmedt stands in one of his family's fields south of Altus, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Heavy rains delayed the 2016 wheat harvest in Oklahoma, but the yield could be better than recent years. Many farmers, however, are still making up losses from a drought that climatologists warn could be returning.

It’s a hot, dry and relatively windless day south of Altus in southwest Oklahoma. Eight to 11 inches of rain has fallen in the area over the last few weeks, and Fred Schmedt is on his cell phone trying to keep large trucks and tractor-trailers off his field.

Devon Tower in downtown Oklahoma City.
Brian Hardzinski / KGOU

Oklahoma oil and gas companies are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by members of an environmental group that seeks to reduce production waste that could be fueling a spike in earthquakes.

Gov. Mary Fallin speaking at the 2013 Governor's Energy Conference in Tulsa, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday signed into law legislation that banks boom-time tax revenues to cushion the state during energy downturns.

The Energy Revenues Stabilization Act was created through House Bill 2763, authored by Rep. John Montgomery, R-Lawton. The measure siphons off above-average tax revenues levied on corporations and oil and gas production and saves it in an account that can be tapped during state funding emergencies.

Oklahoma Water Resources Board project coordinator Jason Murphy samples water in the frigid Canadian River east of Oklahoma City.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

After months of deliberation and closed-door meetings, lawmakers in the Oklahoma House and Senate are poised to cut a deal to fill a $1.3 billion shortfall and fund government for 2017.

The $6.8 billion presumptive budget agreement has been praised for preserving money for education, prisons and Medicaid, but some of the sharpest cuts are aimed at agencies that regulate industry and protect the environment.