Joe Wertz

Reporter

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.

  • Email: stateimpact@kgou.org
  • Twitter: @joewertz

Oil-Covered Owls Prompt Investigation of ‘Neglected’ Oil Field Site

The discovery of two barn oils coated in oil has prompted an investigation of a “neglected” oil field site in northwest Oklahoma.

One of the owls died, the Enid News & Eagle reported on July 25. The surviving bird is eating, walking and climbing and is being monitored by Jean Neal, a Fairview caretaker “licensed to handle small non-migratory animals.”

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission and state Department of Wildlife Conservation are investigating a site near the Major and Garfield County lines. Inspectors found several other dead birds floating in a saltwater tank at the site, the paper reports:

A preliminary report, compiled by an Oklahoma Corporation Commission oil and gas field inspector, noted there was oil on the ground around the tank and in several other areas inside the dike. Rig anchors were not marked, and there were no Oklahoma Tax Commission numbers on the storage tanks or the meter house, the report stated.

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Why Oklahoma’s Wind Energy Future Could be Shaped by Osage County

Bob Hamilton, director of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska, Okla.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Bob Hamilton, director of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska, Okla.

Oklahoma is moving up the national ranks in wind-generated electricity. But as wind farms expand into northeastern Oklahoma, developers are facing a team of unlikely allies: oil interests and environmentalists.

Wind farm developers encounter opposition wherever projects are planned, but the debate in Oklahoma is perhaps most magnified in Osage County, where there’s a confluence of money, government and prairie politics.

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“Poll: Oklahomans Support More Regulation of Wind Energy Development; Oppose Taxpayer Subsidies”

About 72 percent want the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to be the regulator; 68 percent support rules for maintenance to prevent accidents; 63 percent support local governments having more input on wind projects in their areas. The poll was commissioned by the Oklahoma Property Rights Association, which has opposed wind-energy projects.


Results from the latest SoonerPoll indicate that likely Oklahoma voters, who in other polling typically oppose more regulation, believe there is not enough regulation of wind energy development or oversight of wind tax subsidies in the state.

Read more at: soonerpoll.com

Oklahoma Officials May Reconsider Keeping Oil Train Info Secret

oil-train

Seebe / Flickr

In the wake of deadly derailments, fiery explosions and dangerous spills, the federal government in May ordered railroads to share with state authorities more information about some crude oil shipments.

Some of those trains traverse Oklahoma en route from oilfields in states like North Dakota to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas. Citing “terrorism” concerns, Oklahoma’s Department of Environmental Quality has worked to keep those oil and train shipment details secret.

But as The Oklahoman’s Paul Monies reports, the agency might reverse course and release reports the Federal Railroad Administration says don’t “contain security-sensitive information”: Continue Reading

“Oklahoma Residents Get Ready to Circulate Petition to Overturn Solar and Wind Bill”

Two Oklahomans are hoping to overturn a new law allowing electric utilities to set up a new customer class and higher base rates for customers who use solar and small wind turbines.


Stillwater resident Jonathan Pollnow and Oklahoma City resident Bob Waldrop want voters to reject Senate Bill 1456, signed into law in April by Gov. Mary Fallin. The law allows regulated electric utilities to set up a new customer class with higher base rates for users of rooftop solar panels and small wind turbines. If Pollnow and Waldrop can gather at least 51,739 signatures of registered voters, State Question 772 will appear on the November ballot. Backers of a referendum petition must get at least 5 percent of the total number of votes for governor in the last election cycle.

Read more at: newsok.com

Oklahoma Agrees to Keep Oil Train Shipments Secret

Flames and smoke are seen in an May 2014 oil-train derailment along Virginia's James River.

Waterkeeperalliance / Flickr

Flames and smoke are seen in an May 2014 oil-train derailment along Virginia's James River.

Surging oil production in states like North Dakota has outpaced pipeline capacity, and the energy industry has turned to railroads to transport oil from fields to refineries.

But several high-profile oil-train accidents — including Canada’s explosive Lac-Mégantic 2013 derailment that killed 47, and other accidents in Alberta, Alabama and Virginia — have raised questions about the safety of shipping crude oil on trains.

The federal government has ordered railroads to share more information about some crude oil shipments with state authorities, but Oklahoma officials won’t share that information with regular citizens, The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports:

After an inquiry about the Bakken rail shipment reports, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality said the commission entered into confidentiality agreements with railroads under guidance from the federal Department of Transportation. Continue Reading

High-Rate Disposal Wells Could Have Triggered Oklahoma Earthquakes, New Study Suggests

Caption

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The 'Chambers' disposal well in southeast Oklahoma City.

This year, Oklahoma has had more earthquakes than California. There is a growing body of scientific research that suggests oil and gas production is fueling this increase in seismic activity.

A new paper published today in the journal Science, suggests a small number of wastewater wells used in drilling operations could be responsible for many of the quakes.

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Town Hall Turns Testy as Oklahomans Seek Action and Answers on Earthquakes

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

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

Oklahomans rattled by a surge of earthquakes packed a contentious town hall meeting in Edmond on Thursday and demanded answers and action from public officials.

There was booing and shouts for regulators to impose a moratorium on wastewater disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry, which scientists have linked to Oklahoma’s exponential increase in earthquake activity. Continue Reading

Study: Climate Change Challenges Oklahoma’s Temperature-Sensitive Economy

Oklahoma's average summer temperature range is expected to increase from 81.7-83.58°F to 87.0-93.51°F from 2020 to 2099, the report predicts.

Risky Business Project / Rhodium Group

Oklahoma's average summer temperature range is expected to increase from 81.7-83.58°F to 87.0-93.51°F from 2020 to 2099, the report predicts.

Future temperature changes pose serious risks to the climate-sensitive agricultural and energy industries in Oklahoma and other Great Plains states, a new study on the business and economic effects of climate change concludes. Continue Reading

Legal Challenge to New Drilling Incentive Could Raise Big Constitutional Questions

A legal challenge to a recently signed bill authored by Republican House Speaker Jeff Hickman could have wide-ranging effects.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A legal challenge to a recently signed bill authored by Republican House Speaker Jeff Hickman could have wide-ranging effects.

A controversial bill setting the effective tax rate on new oil and gas wells was one of the capstones of the 2014 legislative session.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed the measure on May 28, ending months of intense debate and oil industry lobbying. But the bill is already headed for a legal challenge, and some of the constitutional questions could have a far-reaching effect because they could define the very words and terms lawmakers use to fund government in Oklahoma.

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