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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As Cities Consider Tougher Drilling Rules, Oklahoma Lawmakers Eye Limits on ‘Local Control’

Protestors outside the meeting held signs and chanted "Stop fracking now" and "No more drilling."

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Protestors outside a public meeting in Oklahoma City about an oil company's proposal to drill near Lake Hefner held signs and chanted "Stop fracking now" and "No more drilling."

When New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a statewide ban on fracking in 2014, Oklahoma Rep. Casey Murdock took notice. After voters in the city of Denton, Texas — just 40 miles south of the Oklahoma state line — approved a fracking ban in the Nov. 4 election, the Republican representative from Felt took action.

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Frequent Small Earthquakes Raise Risk of Bigger Ones in Oklahoma, Study Suggests

USGS geophysicist William Ellsworth.

Michael Diggles / U.S. Geological Survey

USGS geophysicist William Ellsworth.

The daily occurrence of small earthquakes linked to oil and gas drilling in Oklahoma increases the likelihood of larger earthquakes, new research suggests.

“The chances are still small, but we know that from earthquakes the real potential for trouble is in those very unlikely large-magnitude earthquakes,” says geophysicist William Ellsworth of the U.S. Geological Survey, who, along with state and university scientists, presented findings to the American Association for the Advancement of Science at the group’s annual conference in San Jose, Calif.

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“Unemployment Office Prepping for Energy Layoffs”

“We’re still in a very preliminary process of this right now. These layoffs are just beginning to hit and we’re still trying to get an idea of the scope of what we’re dealing with here,” Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Carpenter tells reporter Dale Denwalt.

With the price of crude oil falling by half since summer 2014, several oilfield companies already have announced layoffs in Oklahoma. Carpenter said there’s no way to know yet how many have lost their jobs, but the numbers should become apparent in employment reports due out in a few months.
“Also what makes it difficult is right now, there are a lot of companies that just don’t know whether they’re going to lay anybody off,” Carpenter said.

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“Attorney Sues Energy Companies Seeking Class-action Status for Earthquake Victims in Nine Counties”

Jennifer Lin Cooper filed a lawsuit against two energy companies seeking class-action status for residents of nine counties ‘whose homes have allegedly been damaged by frequent earthquakes,’ the Tulsa World reports.

The suit was filed by attorneys including Scott Poynter, an Arkansas-based attorney who filed a lawsuit on behalf of another Prague earthquake victim, Sandra Ladra, currently pending before the state Supreme Court. The suit states that Cooper’s home sustained more than $100,000 in damage from the 2011 Prague earthquakes. She had purchased the home in 2010 for $117,000, the suit states. The lawsuit cites several scientific studies linking earthquakes in Oklahoma with wastewater injection wells. A 2013 study in the journal Geology found a correlation between wastewater injection wells operated by New Dominion and Spess and the Prague earthquakes.

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As Legislators Debate Property Tax Exemption, State Chamber Says Wind Incentives Work

An Oklahoma wind turbine

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

An Oklahoma wind turbine

Oklahoma lawmakers have filed legislation reeling in tax credits and economic incentives for the wind industry, which have been described as overly generous and too costly.

One incentive in the crosshairs is a five-year exemption on local property taxes installed in 1985, which is reimbursed by the state to schools, counties and CareerTech centers, The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports:

The state paid $64 million in reimbursements in 2013, with half of the exemptions claimed by wind farms. Total reimbursements rose 39 percent from $46 million in 2012, according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission. Continue Reading

Watch Oklahoma Overtake California in Earthquakes


Oklahoma experienced more than three times as many earthquakes as California last year, an uptick many geophysicists say is likely linked to wastewater disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Reveal team has produced a compelling animation of the shaking, which covers a timeline from 2000-2014. Continue Reading

Tulsa World on Oil Industry and Oklahoma Earthquakes: ‘Science Questioned,’ Studies Unfinished

University of Oklahoma graduate students near Wellston, Okla., installing a seismometer to study central-Oklahoma's earthquake swarm

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

University of Oklahoma graduate students near Wellston, Okla., installing a seismometer to study central-Oklahoma's earthquake swarm

Reporters Ziva Branstetter and Curtis Killman reviewed hundreds of documents and examined data on Oklahoma’s earthquake swarm for a multi-part story published Sunday in the Tulsa World.

The “Quake Debate”series, presented online in two parts — part one here; part two here — provides a good overview of the earthquake uptick, which many scientists say has likely been caused, at least in part, by wastewater disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry, as well as the response by industry and state officials. Continue Reading

Wind Power ‘Superhighway’ Could Help Transform Panhandle Into U.S. Energy Hub

A wind farm under construction near Balko, Okla.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A wind turbine under assembly near Balko in Oklahoma's Panhandle. When completed, the turbine will be part of D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments' 300-megawatt Balko Wind Project.

The wind energy boom has largely evaded Oklahoma’s Panhandle, but new turbine projects and a proposal for a $2 billion transmission line could transform the prairie into a national wind energy hub.

But the projects are being planned amid uncertainty at the state Capitol, where tax credits for the wind industry are in the crosshairs.

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“State Orders Injection Well Shut Down After Northwestern Oklahoma Earthquake”

The Corporation Commission ordered SandRidge Energy to shut down a disposal well after earthquakes in Alfalfa County near the Kansas border, the Tulsa World reports.

The commission held a hearing Nov. 26 on SandRidge’s permit application due to staff concerns about earthquakes in the area, records show. SandRidge asked to dispose of up to 80,000 barrels of wastewater per day, or 29 million barrels per year. During the hearing, commission staff testified that the well was one mile from recent earthquakes. SandRidge had agreed to submit additional data to the commission on the amount of wastewater it was disposing and the amount of pressure used in the process.

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