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 High Court Rules Earthquake Lawsuit Can Resume”

Oklahoma’s highest court says a woman who claims oil and gas disposal wells triggered a 5.7-magnitude earthquake that caused injuries to her leg can seek damages in a lower court, the Associated Press reports.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court said Tuesday that Sandra Ladra can sue. A lower court judge had said that since her claims involved Oklahoma’s energy industry, she should go to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. Ladra’s fireplace collapsed during a Nov. 5, 2011, earthquake that is Oklahoma’s strongest on record. She says the temblor was manmade. In their decision, justices noted earthquake activity has increased near Ladra’s home at Prague but did not take a stand on the merits of her case.

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Delayed Federal Fracking Rules Affect Wells on Tribal Land in Oklahoma

A water line for hydraulic fracturing traverses an oil and gas access road in Woods County.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A water line for hydraulic fracturing crosses an oil-field access road in Woods County, Okla.

A federal judge in Wyoming this week delayed the start of new rules for fracking on federal lands, issuing a temporary stay to give the federal government more time to explain how it developed the rule, The Hill and Casper Star-Tribune report.

The Hill’s Timothy Cama says the ruling is a setback for the Obama administration’s “first major attempt” to regulate fracking. The new, “long-anticipated” rules apply only to oil and gas operations on federal and tribal land, which comprises less than two percent of the land in Oklahoma, but could affect some Oklahoma wells, The Oklahoman‘s Adam Wilmoth reports:

The Bureau of Indian Affairs oversees energy production in Osage County in consultation with the Osage Nation. Continue Reading

Regulators Close Tecumseh Landfill After Finding Fires, Leaks and Pools of Blood

State environmental regulators shuttered a landfill near Tecumseh in May “after years of ongoing problems” that included multiple fires, dead animals and pools of standing blood, The Oklahoman‘s Brianna Bailey reports. Continue Reading

“University of Oklahoma Developed Quake Position While Asking Oilman for $25M”

University of Oklahoma officials sought a $25 million donation from oil billionaire Harold Hamm while scientists at the school formulated a state agency’s position on earthquakes triggered by oil and gas activity, Mike Sorgahan with EnergyWire reports. “They came up with a position that squared with Hamm’s, saying most of the hundreds of earthquakes rattling the state are natural and not caused by the oil industry.”

After the coffee meeting, Hamm continued to press Boren on man-made earthquakes, according to emails obtained by EnergyWire. Hamm urged Boren to prohibit Holland from talking to reporters about quakes and instead have the university’s spokeswoman handle such questions. When The New York Times wrote about Oklahoma earthquakes in December 2013, he forwarded the story to Boren with a note: “This situation could spiral out of control easily.” Just before Christmas in 2013, Hamm complained to Boren, a former U.S. senator, about Democrats in Congress pushing for hearings on drilling-related quakes. He worried that continued discussion of earthquakes could lead to more regulation of the industry.

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New Research Links Oklahoma Earthquake Surge to Oil and Gas Disposal Wells

Oil-field workers lining up a section of pipe at a disposal well in Grant County, Okla.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oil-field workers lining up a section of pipe at a disposal well plug-back operation in Grant County, Okla.

The vast majority of Oklahoma’s recent earthquakes occurred in areas where the energy industry pumped underground massive amounts of waste fluid byproducts of oil and gas production, scientists write in a new paper published Thursday.

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Drought-Breaking Rain Proving Too Much, Too Late for Oklahoma Wheat Farmers

A combine crew from South Dakota harvests wheat near Altus in southwest Oklahoma.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A combine crew from South Dakota harvests wheat near Altus in southwest Oklahoma.

May 2015 was Oklahoma’s wettest month on record. The historic rainfall washed away an economically draining drought that haunted parts of the state for five years. For many wheat farmers in southwestern Oklahoma, however, the record rainfall is too much, too late.

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“Oklahoma Wind Industry Looks to Finish Projects Before Tax Incentives End”

Oklahoma might see a surge of wind projects in the next 18 months as developers rush to install projects before tax incentives expire at the end of 2016, the Tulsa World’s Michael Overall reports.

The question is what happens after Jan. 1, 2017, when some of the incentives disappear.
Responding to complaints that wind subsidies were creating a burden on the state budget, the Legislature voted earlier this year to let two types of tax credits expire. Senate Bill 498 will do away with a five-year property tax exemption for wind developments, while SB 502 will prevent wind developments from using a “new jobs” tax credit.

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Power Struggle: The Oil and Gas Boom and an Outbreak of Earthquakes in Oklahoma

Lawrence Stasyszen, abbott of St. Gregory's Abbey, stands inside the monastery's condemned workshop in Shawnee, Okla. The monastery and associated college are still reeling from millions in damage from a 5.7-magnitude quake that struck in 2011.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Lawrence Stasyszen, abbot of St. Gregory's Abbey, stands inside the monastery's condemned workshop in Shawnee, Okla. The monastery and nearby college are still reeling from millions in damage from a 5.7-magnitude quake that struck in 2011.

In 2014, Oklahoma had more than three times as many earthquakes as California, and this year, the state is on track for even more. A lot of them are small, but some towns are seeing a quake almost every day, and seismologists warn that large and damaging earthquakes are becoming more likely.

The government in the Sooner State has only recently acknowledged the scope of the oil and gas industry’s role in the problem.

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“Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. Embarks on 2.5-megawatt Solar Pilot Project”

OG&E’s $7.5 million test project near Mustang has two sites, one with 2,000 fixed solar panels; the other with about 8,000 panels that track the sun, Paul Monies reports.

Scott Milanowski, OG&E’s director of engineering, innovation and technology, said the south site is equivalent to about 100 homes with solar panels; the north site would be about 400 homes. OG&E drew criticism from some renewable energy advocates last year after it supported legislation to end a 1977 law that forbade utilities in Oklahoma from charging more to solar users. Senate Bill 1456 allows regulated utilities to ask regulators to establish a new rate structure for users of distributed generation from rooftop solar or small wind turbines. Utilities argued the change was needed so distributed generation users were paying their fair share of grid-connection costs. Critics contend it was a defensive move intended to stave off competition from fast-growing solar generation.

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