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.

  • Email:
  • Twitter: @joewertz

Woman Injured in 2011 Earthquake Suing Disposal Well Operators

Seismologists say oil and natural gas disposal wells, like this one near Sparks, Okla., are likely triggering earthquakes in Oklahoma.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A disposal well near Prague, Okla.

The 5.7-magnitude earthquake that struck near Prague, Okla., in November 2011 toppled Sandra Ladra’s chimney, raining rocks “on her lap and legs.”

Ladra on Aug. 4 filed a lawsuit against energy companies that operate disposal wells she claims caused the quake. She is seeking $75,000 in actual damages plus punitive damages, the Journal Record‘s D. Ray Tuttle reports.

Ladra alleges that injection wells operated by Cleveland-based Spess Oil Co., Tulsa-based New Dominion LLC and 25 other companies not yet named led to the earthquakes that damaged her home and injured her.

Continue Reading

Third Salt Fork River Fish-Kill in Three Years Fits Mysterious Pattern

For the third year in a row, a large-scale fish-kill has been reported on the Salt Fork River in north-central Oklahoma.

“Hundreds and maybe thousands” of catfish, carp, buffalo and other bottom-feeding fish were likely killed, says Skylar McElhaney, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

The cause of these fish-kills is mysterious, but a pattern is emerging. Continue Reading

Mapped: Which Oklahoma Counties are Crossed by Trainloads of Bakken Crude Oil

Source: Oklahoma Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Commission

Trains carrying 1 million or more gallons of crude oil from the Bakken formation are expected to cross 20 Oklahoma counties each week, data from the Oklahoma Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Commission show.

Explosive, deadly derailments and fiery accidents have raised safety concerns about rail transport of Bakken crude oil, which tests suggest might be more flammable and explosive than other types of crude oil. Continue Reading

“Not their Fault? Oil Industry Geologist Looks Globally for Cause of Quakes”

At a July technical conference sponsored by the Oklahoma City Geological Society, Glen Brown, vice president of geology at Continental Resources Inc,” said global shifts in the Earth’s tectonic plates are more likely to blame for the tremors in Oklahoma.”

Brown said global shifts in the Earth’s tectonic plates are more likely to blame for the tremors in Oklahoma. Three of six of the world’s largest earthquakes happened in the 1950s and 1960s. Oklahoma had an earthquake swarm around that time in the 1950s, including the state’s second-largest quake, a 5.5 magnitude in El Reno in 1952.

Read more at:

State Senator Calls for Federal Task Force on Oklahoma Earthquakes

State Sen. Jerry Ellis, D-Valiant, opposes the sale or transfer of Oklahoma water to Texas.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact

State Sen. Jerry Ellis, D-Valiant.

State Sen. Jerry Ellis on Monday suggested that a federal task force be formed to develop a statewide earthquake “emergency action plan.”

The task force would be charged with examining and evaluating scientific studies related to Oklahoma’s earthquake swarm, which a growing chorus of scientists say is likely linked to disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry, and make recommendations on possible solutions, according to a press release from the House Democratic Caucus. Continue Reading

“Major Oil Field Spill in Kingfisher County”

Corporation Commission officials say this may be the “biggest spill from fracking” the agency has ever handled.

Nearly 500 barrels of acid spilled in an alfalfa field Monday morning. The chemical HCL is used for fracking operations. There’s concern heavy rain will push the runoff into nearby Turkey Creek, which flows into Hennessey’s water system. The Corporation Commission is overseeing the cleanup of the acid spill just south of town. Their top priority is keeping the powerful chemical from getting into the water.

Read more at:

U.S. Wildlife Authorities Join State in Investigation of Owl Deaths at Oil Field Site

Officials found several dead birds in an open tank at this oilfield site in northwest Oklahoma.

Provided / Oklahoma Corporation Commission

Officials found several dead birds in this open saltwater tank at an oilfield site in northwest Oklahoma.

Federal authorities have joined state officials in an investigation of bird deaths at a neglected oil field site in northwestern Oklahoma.

Two oil-covered barn owls were found along with several other dead birds. The owls were taken in by a Fairview caretaker licensed to handle non-migratory birds, but both owls later died, the Enid News & Eagle and Associated Press report. Continue Reading

In Lawsuit Over Oil and Gas Tax Law, Two Ways to ‘Test’ a Revenue Bill in Oklahoma

Oklahoma City attorney and legislative watchdog Jerry Fent, who has successfully challenge laws in the past, comes out of a hearing room at the State Supreme Court, where a referee heard his lawsuit over House Bill 2562.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma City attorney and legislative watchdog Jerry Fent, who has successfully challenged laws in the past, leaves a courtroom at the State Supreme Court, where a referee heard his lawsuit over House Bill 2562.

The State Supreme Court on July 29 heard a lawsuit and constitutional challenge to House Bill 2562, a measure that would change the effective state tax rate levied on oil and gas production.

Both parties agreed that the measure was written to reduce taxes, but is HB 2562 a “revenue bill?” That definition is important because this court battle isn’t about policy, it’s about procedure.

Continue Reading

Inside the State Supreme Court Hearing on Lawsuit Over Oil and Gas Tax Rate

A lawsuit over recently signed legislation that changes state oil and gas tax rates will be heard by the Oklahoma Supreme Court today, a constitutional challenge that could have broad impact on industry and legislative procedure.

I broke down the lawsuit on an Oklahoma News Report segment with OETA’s Dick Pryor, which you can watch above. But here are five things you need to know about today’s hearing, which could hinge on legal subtleties and word interpretations. Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »