Joe Wertz


Joe Wertz is multi-platform reporter for StateImpact Oklahoma. He 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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“Opponents Vow to to Fight Planned Osage County Wind Farm”

A new turbine has been installed in Osage County, but the Osage Tribe is pledging continued court challenges as uncertianty over proper permits stemming from disctrict court rulings and Bureau of Indian affairs decisions lingers.

Long opposed to both developments, the Osage Nation recently raised a new challenge to Osage Wind, claiming that it is violating the tribe’s mineral rights by removing and crushing rock to build foundations for the 400-foot turbine towers. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs has told the wind farm developers to seek a permit from the tribe, but construction continues as the developers say no such permit is required.

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Experts Meet in Oklahoma to Update U.S. Maps With Manmade Earthquake Hazards

A panel of state geological surveys and oil and gas regulators at the National Seismic Hazard Workshop on Induced Seismicity, held in November at a conference center in Midwest City, Okla.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A panel of state geological surveys and oil and gas regulators at the National Seismic Hazard Workshop on Induced Seismicity, held in November at a conference center in Midwest City, Okla.

Scientists, regulators and technical experts from the energy industry met in Oklahoma to discuss how earthquakes triggered by oil and gas operations should be accounted for on national seismic hazard maps, which are used by the construction and insurance industries and pubic safety planners. Continue Reading

“As Senate Readies Keystone XL Pipeline Vote, Debate On Existing Gulf Coast Section Simmers In Oklahoma And Texas”

Supporters say the 487-mile section of the Keystone pipeline that connects Oklahoma to Texas is “proof that building the rest of the pipeline will create jobs and boost tax revenues,” but detractors say the economic impact is overstated and the pipeline will dramatically increase greenhouse gas emissions “by enabling Canadian producers to develop more oil sands crude.”

Proponents say the project has been an economic success story for the state and local governments, creating new jobs and generating tax revenues in rural and low-income communities. But critics, including landowner activists and environmentalists, argue that those benefits are overinflated, and they say they’re worried that earlier safety issues during the pipeline’s construction could cause leaks and harm important aquifers and farmlands.

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“State Business Tax Breaks More Than Double, to $760 Million”

Tax breaks for the energy industry reduced state revenue collections by $486 million in 2014, Oklahoma Watch reports.

Some lawmakers and advocacy groups say the lost revenue is harmful to the state, restricting its ability to invest in core services such as education and health care or to offer broad-based cuts in income or sales taxes. “It’s the largest corporate welfare giveaway in the history of Oklahoma,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa. “It’s going to crowd out our ability to do other levels of tax reform, other levels of lower taxes for people, small businesses and other industries that aren’t in oil and gas.” Supporters of the subsidies insist that they help pay for themselves by generating economic growth and creating jobs. Energy industry leaders say without oil and gas production tax breaks, they would make new drilling methods less cost-effective and stifle exploration.

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“Judge orders Osage County to Approve Wind Farm Development”

Six months after the Osage County Board of Adjustment “refused to grant a permit for a second wind farm development across the rolling hills of Osage County, a district judge declared Wednesday that the giant turbines must be approved after all,” The Tulsa World reports.

The county board voted 3-0, with a fourth member abstaining, to deny a conditional use permit for Mustang Run, which wants to construct 68 turbines across 9,000 acres near the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve north of Pawhuska. The Mustang Run Wind Project promptly sued the board, and District Judge Robert Haney sided with the wind energy developers, partly because previous members of the Board of Adjustment had approved a separate wind farm, now under construction west of Pawhuska.

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What Oklahoma Can Learn From a Municipal Ban on Fracking in Texas

A Frack Free Denton booth at the University of North Texas. On Nov. 4, voters approved a citywide ban on hydraulic fracturing.

Crystal J. Hollis / Flickr

A Frack Free Denton booth at the University of North Texas. On Nov. 4, voters approved a citywide ban on hydraulic fracturing.

Driven by water worries, safety questions and quality of life concerns, residents in Oklahoma and states other the country have pushed for citywide bans on hydraulic fracturing.

Many of those efforts have proved successful, but, in the end, fracking bans might be more about lawyers than voters.

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As Oklahoma Economists Eye Slumping Oil Prices, Energy Executives Urge Calm

Drilling rig near northwest Oklahoma City.

katsrcool / Flickr

Drilling rig near northwest Oklahoma City.

Crude oil prices have plummeted to the lowest level in three years, a slump analysts say is fueled by reduced demand due to stalling growth in Europe and China, and booming supply from domestic production in the U.S.

In Oklahoma — a state where, historically, finances have risen and fallen with the fortunes of the energy industry — the tumbling oil price has been met with different reactions from oil and gas company executives, economists and state finance officials.

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“Feds Subpoena Chesapeake Energy Over Royalty Complaints”

From our partners at StateImpact Pennsylvania: “Chesapeake Energy has been subpoenaed by the federal Department of Justice, seeking information on its royalty payment practices to mineral owners.”

The company has been the subject of widespread complaints in Pennsylvania and other areas of the country where it operates. Landowners have accused Chesapeake of violating lease agreements and underpaying royalties. In a regulatory filing today with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company disclosed it has received subpoenas from the DOJ and other states. Chesapeake says it has “engaged in discussions with the DOJ and state representatives” and continues to respond to demands for information.

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“Falling Oil Prices Make Fracking Less Lucrative”

But Steven Pruett, president and chief executive officer of Elevation Resources in Midland, Texas says low oil prices haven’t created a crisis situation for most energy companies. If prices collapsed to 2008 levels, when oil was fetching less than $35 dollars a barrel, drillers might be forced to take more drastic steps like shutting down production. But few are predicting crude will fall that much, NPR’s Jeff Brady reports.

Oil prices are down than more than 25 percent since June and are staying low for now. Drivers may appreciate that, but for oil companies, it’s making some of the most controversial methods of producing oil less profitable – and in a few cases, unprofitable.

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StateImpact on OETA: The Last Weekend at Walnut Creek State Park

Walnut Creek State Park near Prue in Osage County closed for the season on Oct. 1, and might never open again. Walnut Creek is yet another victim of shrinking budgets and changing priorities at the state department of tourism that have meant the closure or transfer of numerous state parks over the last few years.

OETA photographer Tony D’Astoli joined StateImpact’s Logan Layden for Walnut Creek’s final weekend as a state park, and put a visible face on our radio report during The Oklahoma News Report Oct. 23. See above video. Continue Reading

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