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.

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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.

Provided

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.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

President Obama and delegates from nearly 200 nations are gathering in Paris to hammer out an agreement to rein in global climate change

World leaders are acknowledging their countries’ contributions to climate change, and are making commitments to improve the environment. But there’s an army of Republicans pushing against Obama’s Paris plan, and U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma is one of its generals. 

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

About 30 demonstrators gathered outside the Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Tuesday.

Holding yellow umbrellas and chanting “Don’t Block The Sun,” the protesters spoke out against a proposal by Oklahoma Gas and Electric to include a demand charge on the bills of rooftop solar customers.

An Eagle Energy Exploration disposal well site in May 2015, where workers plugged-back an Arbuckle disposal well regulators said was drilled too deep.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Researchers studying Oklahoma’s energy industry-linked earthquake surge and state regulators eager to quell the shaking have circled the wagons around a specific class of wells companies fill with wastewater and other fluid byproducts of oil and gas production.

Tanker trucks unloading oil at a Phillips 66 terminal in Cushing, Okla., home to the largest commercial crude oil storage in the U.S.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Phillips 66, a refiner with 700,000 barrels of storage capacity in Cushing, Okla., “has overhauled how it plans for earthquakes, a sign U.S. energy companies are starting to react to rising seismicity around the world’s largest crude hub,” Reuters’ Liz Hampton reports.

The changes include new protocols for inspecting the health of crude tanks, potentially halting operations after temblors, and monitoring quake alerts.

Bison on the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in northeastern Oklahoma live a quiet life. Most come into contact with humans just once a year. November is a noisy time when fur flies, calves whine and hooves stomp. The chaotic scene is critical to keeping the herd healthy.

An oil and gas operation in northwestern Oklahoma's Mississippi Lime formation.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

As SandRidge Energy struggles with $4.6 billion in debt and a faltering stock price that’s threatening its listing on the New York Stock Exchange, the Oklahoma City oil and gas company is facing another problem: Earthquakes and new regulations designed to slow the shaking:

Oklahoma Corporation Commission

Oklahoma oil and gas authorities on Tuesday ordered cutbacks at disposal wells in north-central Oklahoma.

The restrictions come after a barrage of earthquakes near the town of Medford.

A disposal well in Northern Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Environmental groups are threatening to file a federal lawsuit against four Oklahoma energy companies over earthquakes linked to oil and gas activity.

Scientists say the industry practice of pumping oil and gas waste fluid underground is likely responsible for Oklahoma’s earthquake boom.

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