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

Tim Cross, chief operator of the water treatment plant in Chandler, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Many of the programs protecting Oklahoma’s air and land are paid for with fees and federal dollars. Oversight and inspection of local water systems, however, are funded by state revenue that has dwindled — and failed.

Chandler, a city of about 3,000 residents, like many small communities in Oklahoma, has struggled with deteriorating pipes and pumps, limited funding to make repairs and upgrades, and increasing demands to provide clean water to more and more customers.

Gov. Mary Fallin and Secretary of Energy and Environment Michael Teague at the Governor's Energy Conference September 4, 2014 in Oklahoma CIty.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday approved the transfer of nearly $1.4 million from the state emergency fund to strengthen Oklahoma’s earthquake response.

The money is going to a pair of agencies tasked with researching the earthquake surge and regulating the oil and gas activities likely causing it.

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

Oklahoma's economy runs on oil. The energy industry drives 1 in 5 jobs and is tied to almost every type of tax source, so falling oil prices have rippled into a state budget crisis.

Crude oil prices have dropped more than 70 percent, and that's created problems across government agencies in Oklahoma. Jason Murphy is a project coordinator for the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. He slides on a pair of waders, unspools a sensor probe and splashes into the frigid Canadian River east of Oklahoma City.

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

SandRidge Energy has agreed to shutter some disposal wells in earthquake-prone northern Oklahoma in a settlement that avoids legal action by state oil and gas regulators.

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In Oklahoma, the economy runs on oil. The energy industry drives 1 in 5 jobs and is tied to almost every type of tax source. So falling oil prices have created a state budget crisis. Joe Wertz of State Impact Oklahoma sent this report.

Concerned residents address lawmakers during a hearing Friday in the House chamber of the state Capitol.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Scores of worried residents sounded off to state lawmakers at a pair of public meetings Thursday and Friday about Oklahoma’s earthquake boom.

Republicans and Democrats each held their own earthquake hearing, and both were rowdy.

People spoke out about home damage, insurance problems and potential injuries. They also chastised state officials for failing to rein in oil and gas activities linked to the shaking. At the Edmond meeting organized by Republican state Rep. Lewis Moore, people interrupted and yelled things like, “pack of lies!”

Oilfield trucks line up at Overflow Energy's Oakwaood No. 1 disposal well in western Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A string of widely felt earthquakes is rattling residents and seismologists, who are warning that parts of Oklahoma could be primed for more severe shaking.

More than 5,700 earthquakes shook the state in 2015 — a record year of seismic activity in Oklahoma. The New Year is off to a shaky start.

A Devon Energy disposal well near Stillwater, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Fourteen Edmond residents filed a lawsuit Monday against a dozen oil and gas companies, “claiming their saltwater disposal wells were in part to blame for earthquakes that hit central Oklahoma in recent weeks,” The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports.

An oil-field truck pulls into a well in north-central Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Thirty-six people in Oklahoma have died in crashes “involving trucks hauling oilfield wastewater and equipment” over the last eight years, The Frontier and News9 report.

In January 2015, drought stricken Waurika Lake was dangerously low.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

There’s a $1 billion hole in the state budget that has consequences for Oklahoma’s environment and natural resources. A controversial state question could pit farmer against farmer. The ground beneath Oklahoma is shaking — figuratively and literally in 2016 — and StateImpact is on it.


State oil and gas authorities are finalizing legal action to force a “financially strapped” Oklahoma energy company to abandon disposal wells suspected of contributing to earthquakes.

Sandridge Energy has been defying directives from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to shut down six disposal wells in north-central Oklahoma. Commission staff are finalizing a legal filing that, if approved, could modify permits and halt operation of the wells.

Finance secretary Preston Doerflinger (left), House Speaker Jeff Hickman (center), and State Sen. Clark Jolley (right) address the budget situation and revenue failure during a Deember 17, 2015 news conference at the state Capitol.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma budget officials sounded a dire financial alarm this week – low oil prices have driven state government revenues to failure.

Lawmakers and state finance officials say a projected $900 million hole in next year's state-appropriated budget could grow closer to $1.1 billion when adjusted for one-time expenditures used to plug a hole in the current state budget.

Those numbers will be officially presented to the state Board of Equalization on Monday. Three of the state’s top finance leaders met with reporters at the state Capitol on Thursday to detail the shortfall.

The Rev. Dr. Bruce Prescott speaks during Tuesday's protest on the steps of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission as other demonstrators hold signs voicing opposition to OG&E's demand charge proposal.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma Gas and Electric, the state’s largest electricity utility, wants regulators to approve new fees for customers who install solar panels. The request is now in the hands of Oklahoma’s three-member Corporation Commission, which has to weigh the real cost of reliable electricity and put a fair value on power from the sun.