Economy, Energy, Natural Resources: Policy to People

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: stateimpact@kgou.org
  • Twitter: @joewertz

City Officials Reconsider Drilling Ordinances as Anti-Frack Ban Legislation Moves Forward

Stillwater resident Tammy Mix stands in front of an oil and gas well behind her house.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Stillwater resident Tammy Mix stands in front of an oil and gas well behind her house.

The Oklahoma House and Senate have advanced legislation to prevent cities, towns and counties from banning fracking and other oil and gas activities.

At least one of the bills will likely end up on the governor’s desk, but even in its unsigned, non-finalized form, the legislation is affecting local regulation.

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“Can This Oil Baron’s Company Withstand Another Quake?”

Fascinating read by Bloomberg’s Benjamin Elgin and Matthew Phillips, who delve deep into the operations and personalities at New Dominion, a Tulsa disposal well operator that’s been named in earthquake-related lawsuits and scientific papers.

Few companies have more at stake than New Dominion. A July 2014 study published in Science found that four high-volume disposal wells owned by New Dominion on the outskirts of Oklahoma City may have accounted for 20 percent of all seismic activity in the central U.S. from 2008 to 2013. Two victims of the 5.7 quake from 2011 have sued New Dominion for damages; the state Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Sandra Ladra, a 64-year-old resident of Prague, who sued after her stone chimney crumbled during the quake, sending rocks crashing down on her legs. Should the court establish a precedent where New Dominion and companies like it can be held liable for earthquake damage, the fallout could be severe.

Read more at: www.bloomberg.com

As Oklahoma Agency Pointed to Natural Causes, Staff Suspected Quakes Were Linked to Oil

The Oklahoma Geological Survey on April 21 acknowledged Oklahoma’s ongoing earthquake surge is “very likely” triggered by wastewater disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry, a formal recognition that comes after years of scientific research that reached similar conclusions.

For years, the OGS’s formal public position was that Oklahoma’s earthquakes were likely natural. At the same time, scientists at the agency suspected as early as 2007 that oil and gas activity was triggering quakes, new email records obtained by EnergyWire’s Mike Sorgahan show:

Survey leaders, though, decided against going public with a theory that might be viewed as hostile to the state’s most prominent industry, according to interviews and agency emails obtained by EnergyWire under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act. Continue Reading

Oklahoma House Advances Anti-Frack Ban Bill

Drilling rig near northwest Oklahoma City.

katsrcool / Flickr

Drilling rig near northwest Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma House on Wednesday voted 64-32 in approving legislation that would prevent officials in towns, cities and counties from banning oil and gas drilling and related production.

Senate Bill 809 now returns to the Senate for consideration. The measure, authored by Senate Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, is one of several bills lawmakers proposed during the 2015 legislative session to limit municipal authority over the oil and gas industry. Continue Reading

“Oklahomans Feel Way More Earthquakes Than Californians; Now They Know Why”

From our reporting on NPR’s ‘Morning Edition’: “State officials have been slow to formally link the industry to the earthquakes. The oil and gas industry is one of the largest economic drivers in Oklahoma — sales tax revenues from drilling and associated business allowed Medford to build a new community pool, among other projects.”

This morning, the U.S. Geological Survey will issue its first comprehensive assessment of the hazard posed by earthquakes linked to oil and gas drilling. In the preliminary report, the survey details oil and gas-related quakes in eight states. The earthquake surge is strongest in Oklahoma, where the state government has formally acknowledged the link for the first time earlier this week.

Read more at: kgou.org

State Seismologist: Oklahoma Earthquakes ‘Very Likely’ Triggered by Oil and Gas Disposal Wells

The offices of Gov. Mary Fallin and the Secretary of Energy and Environment debuted a new web portal, earthquakes.ok.gov, to serve as a "one-stop-shop" for quake research and regulatory news.

The offices of Gov. Mary Fallin and the Secretary of Energy and Environment debuted a new web portal, earthquakes.ok.gov, to serve as a "one-stop-shop" for quake research and regulatory news.

Disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry are ‘very likely’ responsible for the recent surge of earthquakes in Oklahoma, the state seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey said Tuesday.

“Based on observed seismicity rates and geographical trends following major oil and gas plays with large amounts of produced water, the rates and trends in seismicity are very unlikely to represent a naturally occurring process,” state seismologist Austin Holland and agency interim director Richard D. Andrews writes in a joint statement. Continue Reading

“Legislation Would Cut Oklahoma’s Property Tax Exemption for New Wind Power Plants”

Senate Bill 498, which eliminates a five-year property tax exemption for new wind energy projects, was approved by the Oklahoma House.

The version of the legislation approved on Thursday in the House has an effective date of Dec. 31, 2016. The Senate earlier passed a version of the bill with a Jan. 1, 2016, effective date. It now will consider the House version. Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, one of the authors of the bill, said the legislation is needed because Oklahoma tax incentives for the wind power industry have grown more rapidly than intended. In addition to the property tax exemption, tax credits are provided to wind power companies based on how much energy they produce. Together, these two economic development incentives are expected to grow to more than $100 million a year as the wind power industry continues to expand in Oklahoma, Mazzei said.

Read more at: newsok.com

Turbine-Siting Bill Heads to Governor, Lawmakers and Wind Industry Near Deal on Tax Incentives

The Blue Canyon wind farm near Carnegie, Okla.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Blue Canyon wind farm near Carnegie, Okla.

State legislators and wind industry representatives are close to a deal that would end two tax incentives and preserve a third, The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports:

Under the tentative agreement, a five-year property tax exemption for new wind farms would end after 2016, but a zero-emissions tax credit would remain in place. Another incentive that isn’t used much by wind developers, the investment tax credit, would end Jan. 1, 2017.

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“Fracking And Earthquakes In Middle America”

Host Tom Ashbrook interviewed seismologist Katie Kernan, New Yorker writer Rivka Galchen, who just wrote piece on the quake phenomenon, AJ Ferate of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, and Angela Spots of Stop Fracking Payne County.

Fracking And Earthquakes In Middle America The earthquakes of Oklahoma. There’s a sharp increase. Big oil, lots of water, pressure, fracking. We’ll look at what lies beneath. Until 2008, the state of Oklahoma averaged one or two earthquakes magnitude 3.0 or greater a year. Then the lid blew off those numbers.

Read more at: onpoint.wbur.org

Oil Billionaire Sought Meeting With OU President Boren on Oklahoma Quake Research as Far Back as 2011

The November 2013 meeting with University of Oklahoma President David Boren wasn’t oil billionaire Harold Hamm’s first attempt to discuss with university officials and a state seismologists Oklahoma’s earthquake surge and possible links to oil and gas activity, a new EnergyWire story reveals.

Using emails (click here for a .PDF) obtained through the Oklahoma Open Records Act, Mike Sorgahan reports that Continental Resources founder Hamm “sought as far back as 2011 to manage Oklahoma’s state-funded research into the links among hydraulic fracturing, oil production and earthquakes”:

Hamm sought a meeting with University of Oklahoma President David Boren in September 2011 after state seismologist Austin Holland, a university employee, wrote a report linking small earthquakes in south-central Oklahoma to fracking. According to emails obtained by EnergyWire through open records requests, Hamm wanted to discuss how Holland’s research on fracking might be perceived by the public. Continue Reading

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