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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To Get Permit in Earthquake Zone, Disposal Well Operator Agrees to Extra Monitoring

An oil company seeking to build a disposal well in earthquake-prone Logan County has agreed to record additional pressure and volume measurements to get a permit from the state’s oil and gas regulator.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Thursday voted 2-0 to approve the disposal well for Kansas-based Slawson Exploration. Commissioner Dana Murphy abstained from the vote “saying she wanted to wait until more seismic data was available,” The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports:

Slawson agreed to record daily pressure and volume rates on the disposal well. It also will run a bottom-hole pressure test prior to injection and every 60 days for up to six months.

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StateImpact on OETA: Possible Lawsuit Over Recently Signed Drilling Incentive

I was on Oklahoma News Report last week to discuss the controversial tax incentive for oil and gas drilling, which Gov. Mary Fallin signed on May 28.

The bill is likely to draw a legal challenge from an Oklahoma City attorney, who says it’s a “revenue bill” that was passed without some of the legislative burdens added to the Oklahoma Constitution in 1992 with the voter-approved State Question 640.

The episode first aired on May 23. StateImpact’s segment is embedded above.

Gov. Mary Fallin Signs Controversial Tax Incentive for New Oil and Gas Wells

Rig crews on a Helmerich & Payne operation in western Oklahoma.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Crews working on a drilling rig in western Oklahoma.

Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday signed a bill that makes permanent a generous tax incentive for new oil and gas drilling.

The controversial measure, House Bill 2562, was forged as lawmakers and energy company executives debated the appropriate tax rate for the industry, which drives much of the state’s economy. Oil and gas groups lobbied hard for the bill, as did executives from three of the state’s largest oil and gas companies, who argued the incentive would help Oklahoma compete with other states for drilling.

“The new 2 percent tax rate is fair to the state and sends a clear message to energy producers worldwide: Oklahoma is the place for energy production and investment.” Fallin said in a statement. “We want to be a leader in this field not just today but for decades to come.”

Several other high-profile energy executives, however, said taxes and incentives had little bearing on where or whether they drilled. Continue Reading

Wind Projects in Osage County Dividing ‘Neighbors and Families’

Turbine nacelles for an wind farm project are collecting at a staging area in Osage County.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Turbine nacelles for an wind farm project at a staging area in Osage County.

Wind energy companies have high hopes for Osage County. It’s windy, of course, but unlike other windy areas of western Oklahoma, Osage County is a lot closer to the heavy-duty electrical infrastructure needed to transport power from turbines to the grid.

Wind farms have met resistance in other Oklahoma communities, but opposition to the Osage County projects has been particularly fierce because the region is ecologically sensitive and culturally significant. The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports:

Opponents of the two projects by Kansas-based TradeWind Energy Inc. said they endanger the natural beauty of the tallgrass prairie, its fragile ecosystem and the cultural history of the Osage Nation. The area is at the southern edge of the Flint Hills, the last sliver of the natural tallgrass prairie that at one time covered 140 million acres in North America. Continue Reading

“Okla. Governor Urged to Reject Oil Production Tax”

A spokesman for the governor, Alex Weintz, says Fent’s opinion of the bill won’t affect whether she signs it.

Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent hand delivered a letter to Fallin’s office Tuesday urging her not to approve the bill. Fent says it was passed during the last week of the legislative session in violation of a constitutional requirement. The lawsuit also alleges it was approved by fewer lawmakers than required by the constitution, which says revenue bills must be approved by three-fourths of the membership of the House and Senate.

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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

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