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

oil pump jack
Paul Lowry / Flickr

A bill that would bank tax revenues to cushion the state budget during energy industry downturns awaits the governor’s signature.  

Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, listens to questions on the Oklahoma House of Representatives floor on May 27, 2016.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a $6.8 billion budget in the waning hours of the legislative session Friday. The bill was narrowly approved with a vote of 52-45 and now goes to Gov. Mary Fallin's desk for her approval.

Updated May 27, 4:43 p.m.

During floor debate, House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, said the budget isn’t perfect, but it funds core services.

Columbus Oil Company owner Darlene Wallace in the field with a "stripper well," which produces two-and-a-half barrels of oil a day.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The deadline to fund state government is rapidly approaching, and legislators are struggling to bridge a $1.3 billion budget gap. One idea is to end a tax rebate for unprofitable oil and gas wells, but small oil and gas producers say their safety net shouldn’t be used to plug the state’s budget hole.

Revenue, Rebates

The Oklahoma House of Representatives is in session, and Darlene Wallace is blocking the ornate entrance to the main floor. She’s an obstacle, an oil producer — and she’s clutching a clipboard with the names of lawmakers.

An American Energy Woodford well near Perkins, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The oil boom minted millionaire executives and transformed Oklahoma City into a corporate energy hub, but industry tax breaks and funding cuts kept much of the prosperity from reaching public services, a new Reuters investigation shows.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Insurance companies moved to limit their exposure as Oklahoma’s earthquake rate exploded, according to an investigation by Reuters.

Examining thousands of pages of documents from the Oklahoma Insurance Commission, reporter Luc Cohen found the efforts by nearly a dozen insurance companies “often occurred at the expense of homeowners”:

The Illinois River flows around a recently fallen tree near one of the waterway's public access points.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

There are more than 78,000 miles of rivers and streams in Oklahoma. But 200 of those miles are unique — Oklahoma’s scenic rivers.

They are some of the state’s most environmentally sensitive waterways, and the state grants them special protections. The agency charged with overseeing the rivers has been a victim of state budget cuts and is on the verge of disbanding.

Shaken residents line up inside Edmond's Waterloo Baptist Church to voice concerns and ask representatives from the Corporation Commission and the state Geological Survey questions about recent earthquakes.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Federal researchers feared Oklahomans were getting inaccurate information and inadequate warnings from state government scientists and officials tasked with studying and responding to a surge of earthquakes linked to oil and gas activity, a StateImpact investigation has found.

'ALARM BELLS'

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

A $1.3 billion budget hole and state funding crisis fueled by low crude prices has polarized a debate on the state’s financial support of wind-generated electricity.

Gov. Mary Fallin
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday signed legislation that clarifies state regulators’ authority to take action on oil and gas operations linked to earthquakes.

The measure, House Bill 3158, authored by Republican House Speaker Jeff Hickman of Fairview, takes effect immediately.

Nathan and Brooke Hall.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Brooke Hall has lived in the Parkway Mobile Home Park most of her life. She’s never really liked the taste of the water that comes from the park’s wells, but she didn’t think it could be dangerous until she was in the hospital giving birth to her son.

“Doctors and nurses told me I needed to stop breastfeeding while they did blood work and tested for lead because they were afraid that, because I was drinking the water, that it would be passed through to him,” she says.

Fire approaches a windmill in northwest Oklahoma.
Roy Anderson / Oklahoma Highway Patrol

Updated 4/9/2016, 8:28 a.m.

A coalition of firefighters from five states worked Friday to contain a wildfire near Woodward in northwestern Oklahoma. The flames have scorched more than 57,000 acres.

High winds caused power lines to arc earlier in the week, sparking the fire. Those same winds spread the flames over 90 square miles of dry grassland in Woodward and Harper Counties. No one has been hurt, but farm equipment was engulfed.

A flowchart from ODOT's new manual on inspecting bridges after earthquakes.
Oklahoma Department of Transportation

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has changed its post-earthquake bridge-inspection plan after a year-long study showed no structural damage from seismic activity.

Under the new plan, which went into effect April 1, ODOT will only inspect bridges after magnitude 4.7 or greater quakes. Regions where bridge inspections are required will expand as earthquake intensity increases:

An American Energy Woodford well near Perkins, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

As crude prices limp along, a tax rebate for “economically at-risk” wells is poised to grow into one of the state’s biggest tax breaks for business and industry.

Two years ago, when Oklahoma crude was selling for about $100 a barrel, the rebates totaled just $11 million, Oklahoma Watch’s Warren Vieth reports:

Structural engineers have condemned a workshop used by monks at St. Gregory's University in Shawnee, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The U.S. Geological Survey on Monday released new maps and models showing Oklahoma has the highest risk for potential shaking from human-triggered earthquakes.

U.S. Geological Survey

The U.S. Geological Survey on Monday released for the first time maps that forecast regions that could experience damage from human-triggered earthquakes. Oklahoma has the highest risk for potential shaking, researchers say.

Panhandle residents pouring over maps showing possible routes for the Plains and Eastern Clean Line Project, which, if approved, would funnel wind power from Oklahoma to the southeastern U.S. power grid.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The U.S. Department of Energy on March 28 cleared the way for construction of a 700-mile transmission line project designed to carry Oklahoma wind power to the southeastern U.S. electricity grid.

The $2.5 billion Plains and Eastern Clean Line is different than the typical AC power lines that crisscross the U.S. It’s a high-voltage direct-current line, which is more expensive to build but loses less electricity over long distances.

New Source Energy Partners is headquartered at 914 N. Broadway Ave. in Oklahoma City.
Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record

It’s been more than 18 months since the start of the energy downturn that saw the price of oil dip to about $30 dollars a barrel.

It’s slowly starting to rebound, and it’s led to bankruptcies, a few success stories, and even some variables that have nothing to do with market forces.

Last week New Source Energy Partners filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The small company based in an office along Broadway in Oklahoma City’s Automobile Alley had a credit cut in October that took its borrowing base from $49 million to $24 million.

A SandRidge Energy well in northwestern Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission unanimously voted Tuesday to approve new rules specifying how agency staff and disposal well operators will settle disputes over regulatory actions issued to reduce earthquakes.

Continental Resources founder and CEO Harold Hamm, second to the left, at the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association's office in Oklahoma City.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma legislators are considering eliminating some tax credits and incentives for businesses to help plug a $1.3 billion budget gap. The state’s fiscal crisis has led some oil and gas leaders to push lawmakers to end incentives for the wind industry.

INCENTIVE AGREEMENT

Oklahoma City Police Department Chief Bill Citty during a press conference.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact OK

Oklahoma City police released new details Monday about the fiery single-car crash that killed former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon one day after his federal indictment.

Investigators say the energy executive and part-owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder was driving 78 miles-per-hour when he struck a concrete overpass the morning of March 2.

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