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

Jack Romine stands near a makeshift chimney state inspectors installed over an abandoned, leaky well that was discovered near his home in Bartlesville, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma has hundreds of abandoned oil and gas wells, the byproduct of a century of petroleum production. Left unrepaired, many of these wells can endanger people and the environment. The state has a fund to plug abandoned wells, but some of that money has been diverted due to budget cuts.

Jack Romine discovered natural gas without spending a dime on exploration, drilling or production.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The Chisholm View wind farm near Hunter, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill in May 2015 ending a program that afforded many wind developers a five-year exemption on property taxes. The measure, Senate Bill 498, authored by Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, was projected to save the state $500 million over 10 years by sunsetting an ad valorem exemption on Jan. 1 2017.

Employee Gene Howell and co-owner Ross Ledbetter at Reeder's Auto and Tire in Midtown Tulsa, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Crashing crude oil prices are fueling big bargains for American motorists, who are driving away with tanks full of inexpensive gasoline. Today, the national average is $1.71 for a gallon of regular unleaded. Oklahoma could be one of the first places in the country to see gas prices dip below $1 a gallon.

A shiny black Mercedes pulls up near a pump, the bell rings and Ross Ledbetter tells the driver to pop the hood.

“It’s showing full,” he shouts. “You have a concern?”

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

The Sierra Club filed a federal lawsuit today against three Oklahoma energy companies over earthquakes linked to oil and gas production.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District in Oklahoma City, accuses Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy and New Dominion of operating wastewater injection wells that have contributed to a massive spike in earthquakes in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Lawrence Stasyszen, abbott of St. Gregory's Abbey, stands inside the monastery's condemned workshop in Shawnee, Okla. The monastery and nearby college are still reeling from millions in damage from a 5.7-magnitude quake that struck in 2011.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

In 2014, Oklahoma had more than three times as many earthquakes as California, and this year, the state is on track for even more. A lot of them are small, but some towns are seeing a quake almost every day, and seismologists warn that large and damaging earthquakes are becoming more likely.

The government in the Sooner State has only recently acknowledged the scope of the oil and gas industry’s role in the problem.

seismic readout
Great Beyond / Flickr

A strong earthquake rocked Oklahoma Saturday morning. The U.S. Geological Survey's initial estimate places the quake at a magnitude 5.1, while the Oklahoma Geological Survey estimates 4.8.

Why State And Federal Agencies Record Different Oklahoma Earthquake Numbers

Oklahoma Geological Survey seismologists and representatives from the Corporation Commission lead a public meeting on earthquakes held in March 2015 in Medford, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A former research seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey says agency leaders and other state officials fostered a culture of hesitation and reluctance to act on science suggesting the state’s earthquake boom was linked to oil and gas activities.

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.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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.

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