Joe Wertz

Managing Editor 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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Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A summer fish kill in north-central Oklahoma is worrying anglers, river-goers and nearby water users.

The Salt Fork River die-off was massive and, still months after it was reported, mysterious. Researchers and state authorities say they still don’t know who or what the killer is.

Two fish kills were reported to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, records show. The first one on June 3, upstream near Lamont; the second on June 17, near Tonkawa. The two fish kills are likely related, so state authorities are investigating them as one event, officials from the DEQ, state Department of Wildlife Conservation and Corporation Commission tell StateImpact.

“In the areas that overlapped during the kills, there is absolutely zero aquatic life other than turtles,” says Spencer Grace, a state game warden stationed in Kay County.

CALI2OKIE / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Over the last 12 months, the state has collected $11.3 billion in tax revenue — an all-time high, State Treasurer Ken Miller said Monday.

The record tax receipt — $12.6 million higher than the previous record set in December 2008 — is an indication that Oklahoma has recovered from the Great Recession, Miller said.

SFC Kendall James / U.S. Department of Defense

Editor's Note: This is part one in StateImpact Oklahoma's "Twister Truths" series where we use data to kick the tires on the conventional wisdom underlying severe weather policy in Oklahoma.

In Oklahoma, state and local emergency authorities emphasize individual shelters in peoples’ homes over communal shelters in schools or other civic buildings. As we reported here, almost all the federal disaster funding the state receives has been directed to rebates for the construction of residential shelters and safe rooms.

boy walking through rubble
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Since the deadly tornadoes that struck the state this spring, StateImpact has been taking a look at Oklahoma’s severe weather policy, and asking questions like: Why aren’t there more safe rooms in schools?

Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm
Provided / Continental Resources

Oil billionaire Harold Hamm, the CEO and Chairman of Oklahoma energy giant Continental Resources has been tapped to lead state Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s re-election campaign.

The Associated Press reports:

Pruitt described Hamm as a “dedicated businessman, visionary, and icon here in Oklahoma.”


StateImpact joined OETA journalists Dick Pryor and Bob Sands and Journal Record energy reporter Sarah Terry-Cobo for an Oklahoma Forum discussion about threats to the state’s air, land and water.

LLudo / Flickr Creative Commons

Moore, Norman and Oklahoma City are the primary polluters of Lake Thunderbird, a sensitive drinking water source classified as “impaired” by the Environmental Protection Agency, new data show.

State and municipal water and environmental authorities have been working on a plan to clean up the lake, colloquially referred to as “dirtybird” for its murky appearance and weird smell, which still hasn’t met Clean Water Act target dates from 30 years ago.

Cali2Okie / Flickr Creative Commons

There were 951 oil spills reported in Oklahoma last year, more than every other major energy state state except North Dakota, EnergyWire reports.

The news service has been trying to count the number of spills in the U.S. and measure their impact, but has been stymied by haphazard reporting of spills, which “are scattered amid databases, websites and even file drawers of state agencies across the country”

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma has experienced an increase in earthquakes in recent years, a phenomenon many geophysicists have linked to disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry.

The 5.7-magnitude quake that injured two people and destroyed 14 homes in November 2011 was Oklahoma’s largest on record and is likely the largest triggered by wastewater injection, a team of geophysicists concluded in a report released in March.

StateImpact Oklahoma

The federal government on Monday filed a lawsuit against Oklahoma Gas & Electric, accusing the electric utility of violating the Clean Air Act by improperly estimating the amount of emissions that could come from upgrades at two coal-fired power plants.

A copy of the government’s complaint, which was made through the Environmental Protection Agency, is included on StateImpact Oklahoma's website.

Olliehigh / Flickr Creative Commons

While the State of Oklahoma won the Supreme Court Water War with Texas, its in-state skirmish is still simmering.

This battle — between the state and the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations — is being waged within Oklahoma’s borders. But unlike the Red River water dispute, reports from the front lines of Oklahoma’s tribal water war are sketchy and scarce. The Associated Press’ Tim Talley explains news drought:

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Moore City Council on Tuesday delayed a vote on an ordinance that would strengthen construction standards to help reduce damage from tornadoes.

Finzio / Flickr Creative Commons

The count of kids with cavities is on the rise in Pottawatomie County, where no fluoride is added to the public water systems.

And pediatric health groups and a local dental association are sounding alarms, the Shawnee News-Star’s Madi Alexander reports:

FALLSROAD / Flickr Creative Commons

In the 1960s, survey teams of architects and engineers started hunting across Oklahoma for places to hunker down.

They found basements and tunnels, underground parking garages and well-built structures in municipal and private buildings.

At the time, Oklahoma’s big worry was an attack from Soviet Russia. That threat never materialized, but the state is targeted by tornadoes every year. And public shelter spaces are disappearing from the map.

President Obama speaking in Cushing, Oklahoma in March 2012.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

It’s hard to know where President Barack Obama stands on the Keystone XL pipeline project, which still awaits his approval.

Obama has rejected Transcanada’s permit for the Canada-to-Texas pipeline in the past, but championed parts of the project during a 2012 trip to the pipeline’s hub in Cushing, Oklahoma.

When the U.S. Supreme Court sided unanimously with Oklahoma in the courtroom war over water that flows into the Red River, Texas’ legal claim to the resource was greatly diminished.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The “Oklahoma Standard” is a phrase that describes how this state responds in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, like the tornado that ripped through Moore on May 20.

But that resiliency isn’t reflected in Oklahoma’s construction standards, which don’t factor for tornadoes.

U.S. Drought Monitor

The extreme drought blanketing Southwestern Oklahoma has taxed water resources in Altus and plagued farmers.

It’s hard to imagine a worse setting: A seemingly endless horizon of giant steel storage tanks holding 50 million barrels of crude oil, a spiderweb of pipelines, pumps, compressors and terminals, and a critical confluence of big corporations and international energy market money.

And a city of about 8,000 nearby.

Law enforcement has long feared the Cushing oil terminal would make an ideal target of terrorists, but what about a tornado? Just two weeks before the May 20 tornados devastated Moore, authorities held a worst-case-scenario F5 twister drill in Cushing.

Lauren Gardner stands near a family members house, which was destroyed by the tornado.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

StateImpact Oklahoma's Joe Wertz took cover in Moore on his drive home from KGOU Monday afternoon. Once the tornado passed, he immediately went to work reporting for Oklahoma's public radio stations and NPR.