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Why Oklahoma’s Wind Energy Future Could be Shaped by Osage County

Bob Hamilton, director of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska, Okla.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Bob Hamilton, director of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska, Okla.

Oklahoma is moving up the national ranks in wind-generated electricity. But as wind farms expand into northeastern Oklahoma, developers are facing a team of unlikely allies: oil interests and environmentalists.

Wind farm developers encounter opposition wherever projects are planned, but the debate in Oklahoma is perhaps most magnified in Osage County, where there’s a confluence of money, government and prairie politics.

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Why The OKC Coalition To Pump Water From Southeast Oklahoma Fell Apart

Mitchell Logan supervises a pump station near Macomb, the 100-mile Atoka Pipeline's last stop on its way to the OKC metro.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Mitchell Logan supervises a pump station near Macomb, the 100-mile Atoka Pipeline's last stop on its way to the OKC metro.

Oklahoma City has been pumping water out of southeast Oklahoma through the Atoka pipeline for 50 years. But in the future, the aging pipeline won’t be able to carry enough water to meet the growing needs of Oklahoma City, let alone the rest of central Oklahoma. The plan is build another pipeline right next to the existing one.

Seventeen central Oklahoma communities formed a partnership with Oklahoma City to build the new 100-mile pipeline to get the water, but that water coalition has crumbled.

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High-Rate Disposal Wells Could Have Triggered Oklahoma Earthquakes, New Study Suggests

Caption

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The 'Chambers' disposal well in southeast Oklahoma City.

This year, Oklahoma has had more earthquakes than California. There is a growing body of scientific research that suggests oil and gas production is fueling this increase in seismic activity.

A new paper published today in the journal Science, suggests a small number of wastewater wells used in drilling operations could be responsible for many of the quakes.

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Why Norman Is The Only Oklahoma Town Where Citizens Control the Price of Water

Harold Heiple, chairman of Norman's charter review committee, addresses the city council in Norman June 17.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Harold Heiple, chairman of Norman's charter review committee, addresses the city council in Norman June 17.

Norman is the only city in Oklahoma where utility rates are determined by a vote of the people — who aren’t always willing to charge themselves more for water. A proposal to change that came before the city council last week and was rebuffed, despite consensus that allowing voters to decide rates could be hurting the city.

Letting customers vote on rate increases seems like a great way to fund expensive water system repairs and give citizens a voice. But some members of the Norman City Council, like Greg Heiple, say that city’s unique way of handling water ends up costing more.

“I came up with some estimates, and these are my guesses. It has cost us in the last 40 years a quarter of a billion to a half billion dollars in cost of waiting on projects,” Heiple says.

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Norman’s Choice: Wastewater Reuse or Reliance on Oklahoma City’s Pipelines

Lake Thunderbird, near Norman, Okla.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Lake Thunderbird, near Norman, Okla.

Oklahoma’s third largest city is at a water crossroads.

Norman is updating its strategic water supply plan to make sure it has enough to meet growing demand over the next 50 years. And the city council’s choice is between reliance on Oklahoma City and water from southeast Oklahoma, or reusing its own wastewater.

After two years of study and public input, more than a dozen plans were narrowed down to two, portfolio 14 and portfolio 13.

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Court Losses Won’t Deter Attorney General Scott Pruitt In His Fight With The EPA

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c_nilsen / Flickr

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week proposed new rules to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt — predictably — blasted the plan as another example of federal overreach in the Obama Administration’s war on fossil fuels.

And the same day the EPA announced its CO2 emission goal, Pruitt was already making a case for litigation over it.

“The EPA can’t force utility companies to actually incorporate emission control measures unless they’re achievable through technology,” Pruitt tells StateImpact. “And here, there really isn’t any demonstrated technology that will see a reduction of 30 percent.”

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Legal Challenge to New Drilling Incentive Could Raise Big Constitutional Questions

A legal challenge to a recently signed bill authored by Republican House Speaker Jeff Hickman could have wide-ranging effects.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A legal challenge to a recently signed bill authored by Republican House Speaker Jeff Hickman could have wide-ranging effects.

A controversial bill setting the effective tax rate on new oil and gas wells was one of the capstones of the 2014 legislative session.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed the measure on May 28, ending months of intense debate and oil industry lobbying. But the bill is already headed for a legal challenge, and some of the constitutional questions could have a far-reaching effect because they could define the very words and terms lawmakers use to fund government in Oklahoma.

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What Became of the Bills StateImpact Was Watching This Legislative Session?

The Oklahoma Senate

Becky McCray / Flickr

The Oklahoma Senate

From the start of the legislative session on February 3rd, StateImpact Oklahoma had its eye on what was sure to be a heated issue: the coming expiration of a tax credit for horizontally drilled oil and gas wells. Without action, rates would go from one-percent for the first four years of a well’s life, back to 7 percent.

Democrats like Representative Richard Morrissette argued companies don’t drill for oil and gas because of tax breaks, and it can’t be assumed they have the best interest of Oklahomans at heart.

“The jobs are here, because they’ve got to get the gold out of the ground,” Morrissette said on the House floor. “They’re not doing it because of the love of country and state. They’re doing it for the love of the dollar bill.”

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

Caption

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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