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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Oklahoma Legislature Passes Controversial Tax Incentive for New Oil and Gas Wells


josephleenovak / flickr

The  Oklahoma Legislature on Thursday approved a bill that makes permanent a generous tax incentive for oil and gas production.

The votes followed a heated debate at the Capitol, and months of disagreement between lawmakers, industry lobbyists and energy executives, which are divided on the measure.

The bill’s approval was decried by opponents, like the left-leaning Oklahoma Policy Institute, which described the measure as a “subsidy” for the “well-connected” oil and gas industry. And one Oklahoma City attorney is already considering a constitutional challenge to the bill. Continue Reading

Oklahoma’s Drought-Withered Wheat Harvest Could Have National Effects


Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Brothers and business partners Fred and Wayne Schmedt stand in their family's wheat field near Altus in southwest Oklahoma.

Four years of extreme drought has withered the agricultural economies of southern Great Plains states like Oklahoma, where farmers are bracing for one of the worst wheat crops in state history.

And Oklahoma’s withered wheat harvest could have national consequences.

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Drought and Passive Landowners Add Fuel to Oklahoma’s Burning Red Cedar Problem

Billy Hays in the cab of a Bobcat, which Oklahoma County modified to cut and shred Eastern Red Cedars.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Billy Hays in the cab of a Bobcat, which Oklahoma County modified to cut and shred Eastern Red Cedars.

The eastern red cedar tree causes allergies, crowds out other species, guzzles water, and fuels Oklahoma’s most devastating wildfires, including one near Guthrie last week.

And lengthy drought has intensified the problem. But eliminating the tree is complicated by the passive attitude of many landowners, and a state forestry service with little authority.

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“Oil Man George Kaiser Proposes Increase in Oklahoma Oil-and-Gas Tax”

The Wall Street Journal on Oklahoma’s oil billionaire George Kaiser, who, as we’ve reported, “is breaking with fellow energy executives in asking the state to raise taxes on oil companies.” The story also includes a quote from Stacy Schusterman, chief executive of Samson Energy, which doesn’t operate in Oklahoma: “The assertion that increasing the tax rate by six percentage points will discourage drilling ‘stretches all credibility,’ she says in a written statement.”

“Oklahoma is in desperate financial circumstances,” says the billionaire philanthropist, who controls closely held Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. A higher tax on oil-and-gas production could help the state pay for education and much needed infrastructure improvements, he says in a prepared statement. Raising the production tax “doesn’t move the needle in the decision to drill.” Many of Mr. Kaiser’s competitors beg to differ. “He is a social philanthropist and is very interested in growing the size of government,” says Fred Morgan, chief executive of the State Chamber of Oklahoma.

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Environmental Groups Ask EPA to Regulate Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Wells

An oil well near a neighborhood in Yukon, Okla.

bjmccray / flickr

An oil well near a neighborhood in Yukon, Okla.

An alliance of national and state environmental groups on Tuesday asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set air pollution limits on oil and gas wells and production equipment.

The petition — prepared by Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council and signed by more than 60 other groups — asks the EPA to issue rules limiting air pollution from oil and gas wells in cities, suburbs and other populated areas.

Nine states are mentioned specifically in the petition, including Oklahoma, where the groups identified 23,646 oil and gas wells in populated areas. Continue Reading

“There’s Now A Run On Quake Insurance In Fracking-Heavy Oklahoma”

Many Oklahomans are rushing to add quake coverage to their homeowner’s policies, Reuters reports.

Oklahoma Insurance Commission spokeswoman Kelly Collins said the agency was curious to see if there has been a jump in coverage for earthquakes and did an informal survey. Three of the top 10 firms in the state responded and said Oklahomans are taking the threat seriously. When the state had a quake with a magnitude of 5.6 in 2011, only about 2 percent to 4 percent of customers had full coverage. “Now, 12 to 18 percent have that insurance. It’s still less than 20 percent of homeowners, but I think this latest warning would catch people’s attention,” Collins said.

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“TradeWind Denied Permit for Wind Farm on Osage Prairie”

The Osage County Board of Adjustment voted Thursday to deny a TradeWind Energy permit for a 68-turbine wind farm west of Pawkuska, the Bigheart Times reports.

The board also denied a petition by the Osage Nation to invalidate their past action two years ago approving a second wind project, Osage Wind LLC, which was recently purchased by TradeWind from Wind Capital Group. None of the members of the board, voting 4-0 against the Nation, would explain his or her vote despite being asked to do so by tribal attorney Ian Shavitz. They did, however, explain the denial of the permit for Mustang Run. Arguments that the giant wind turbines would damage one of the last unfragmented shreds of the Flint Hills tallgrass prairie and that neighboring landowners oppose the development swayed board members.

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Drier, Hotter, More Extreme Weather: How Climate Change is Already Affecting Oklahoma

A supercell near Courtney, Okla., in April 2014.

ravedelay / Flickr

A supercell near Courtney, Okla., in April 2014.

A new federal report bluntly warns that every region of the United States is already observing climate change-related effects to the environment and economy.

In Oklahoma and other Great Plains states, climate change from carbon emissions is changing crop growth cycles, increasing energy and water demand, altering rainfall patterns and leading to more frequent extreme weather and climate events, the report concludes.

The magnitude of those changes is expected to increase throughout Oklahoma’s region, according to the report. And researchers say current planning efforts to respond and adapt to climate change are “inadequate.”

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Public Forum Questions Reveal Concern About Climate Change in Oklahoma

People waiting to ask questions at StateImpact's public forum on how climate change is affecting Oklahoma.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

People waiting to ask questions at StateImpact's public forum on how climate change is affecting Oklahoma.

Last week, we hosted a public forum on how climate change affects Oklahoma. A panel of experts took audience questions on water and agriculture, and if the discussion is any guide, Oklahomans are curious, frustrated and concerned about climate change.

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Federal and State Agencies Warn of Earthquake Risk in Oklahoma

A pump jack near Kingfisher, Okla.

Katsrcool / Flickr

A pump jack near Kingfisher, Okla.

Federal and state seismologists on Monday warned that the risk of a damaging quake occurring in central and north-central Oklahoma had increased dramatically.

The state’s earthquake rate has increased 50 percent since October 2013, according to the joint warning by the U.S. Geological Survey and Oklahoma Geological Survey. A likely contributing factor is waste fluid from disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry, a link federal and university seismologists have made in several peer-reviewed studies.

Bill Leith, USGS Senior Science Advisor for Earthquakes and Geologic Hazards says the warning is not a forecast.

“Because earthquake sequences are statistically abnormal behavior, when you get a large increase in the number of small earthquakes, the potential for a larger earthquake also goes up,” Leith tells StateImpact. Continue Reading

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