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: joe@stateimpactoklahoma.org

Wastewater Spills Boom Alongside Drilling in Oklahoma and Other Oil and Gas States

Crews work to contain and clean up 20,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid that spilled near a hydraulic fracturing site near Hennessey, Okla.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Crews work to contain and clean up 20,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid that spilled near a hydraulic fracturing site near Hennessey, Okla., in 2014.

Wastewater spills worsened as drilling boomed in major oil- and gas-producing states, a new year-long investigation from the Associated Press shows. Those states, including Oklahoma, rely on the oil and gas industry to self-report such spills and rarely fine or punish companies, the AP’s John Flesher reports.

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Federal Judge Strips Lesser Prairie Chicken of Endangered Species Status


Larry Lamsa / Flickr

A lesser prairie chicken photographed in New Mexico.

A Texas federal judge on Tuesday overturned endangered species protections for the lesser prairie chicken.

U.S. District Judge Robert A. Junell ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t properly consider a voluntary conservation plan established for Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico before listing the bird as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Continue Reading

Why Obama’s Clean Power Plan Could Mean Opportunity for Some Industries in Oklahoma

The Grand River Dam Authority's coal-fired plant in Chouteau, Okla.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Grand River Dam Authority's coal-fired plant in Chouteau, Okla.

President Obama’s Clean Power Plan enraged many top officials in Oklahoma, who argued the rules were an expensive, unnecessary overreach by the federal government.

But the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could create opportunities in Oklahoma, researchers and officials say.


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Plummeting Oil Prices Have Pushed Oklahoma Into a ‘Mini-Recession’

Workers uncap a well in the western Oklahoma oil field in 2014.

Joe Wertz

Workers uncap a well in the western Oklahoma oil field in 2014.

Slumping oil prices have fueled thousands of job losses in big energy states like Oklahoma, which is “gripped by a mini-recession,” economist Mark Snead tells the Journal Record‘s Kirby Lee Davis:

“The notion that Oklahoma has diversified away from oil and gas is, at this point, many, many years away,” he said.

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“Welcome to Quakelahoma”

VICE’s Matt Smith

“Welcome to Quakelahoma,” writes VICE’s Matt Smith, “where in less than a decade the state has gone from having about two noticeable earthquakes a year to about two a day.”

It’s been standard practice for decades. But the amount of “produced water” injected underground has doubled in the past 15 years as new technology — horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing, more advanced materials — let companies reach pockets of oil and gas they couldn’t get to before. In 2013, operations like West Perkins Commercial Disposal pumped about 160 million barrels of wastewater underground each month. Meanwhile, even though Oklahoma is far from the major earthquake zones of North America, it’s crisscrossed with faults deep underground. And as water starts filling in the rock around them, the odds of them slipping go up.

Read more at: news.vice.com

OG&E Proposes New Charge, Billing Structure for Rooftop Solar


Mike Cogh / Flickr

Oklahoma Gas and Electric is proposing a new “demand charge” be levied on customers who install rooftop solar panels or small wind turbines.

The suggested rate structure was filed with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which has to approve so-called “distributed generation” tariffs for OG&E and Public Service Co. by the end of the year, The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports. OG&E says the new billing structure will eliminate the “subsidization” of solar customers by traditional customers:

The subsidization issue was one used by OG&E and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma to push for Senate Bill 1456, which passed in 2014.

The utilities said distributed generation customers still rely on the grid for electricity when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. Under current billing options, some fixed costs are captured in the kilowatt-hour energy charges that vary by customer usage. The utilities claim rooftop solar users aren’t paying their fair share for poles, transformers, transmission lines and other fixed costs at the times of the day when they’re getting most of their electricity from solar generation.

Here’s how Monies describes the demand charge:

The biggest change for new distributed generation customers will be the demand charge. It is calculated by measuring customer usage in 15-minute increments. A customer’s peak demand on the system in a month would be used to calculate that customer’s demand charge.

The typical residential user has demand ranging from 6 to 8 kilowatts, said Don Rowlett, OG&E’s managing director of regulatory affairs. OG&E’s application puts a demand charge of $2.68 per kilowatt each month. That means most distributed generation users would be paying about $16 of their bill for a demand charge.

The Corporation Commission has not yet set a hearing date on the OG&E tariff and PSO has not yet filed one. Advocates of distributed generation — the growth of which is largely from rooftop solar and not small wind turbines — say OG&E hasn’t demonstrated that the subsidization is real and that the demand charge will block the growth of rooftop solar:

Sanders said The Alliance for Solar Choice was disappointed with OG&E’s filing. She said demand charges erode savings for solar customers and make it harder to predict future rates.

“OG&E is clearly carrying on the wishes of the national utility association, which has fought solar across the country,” Sanders said. “Demand charges are the latest play in the utility playbook.” Sanders said one Arizona utility, Salt River Project, instituted demand charges and saw solar installations fall by 96 percent in their service territory.

“Oft-shaken Okla. Tops Last Year’s Quake Record”

Last year was a banner year for earthquakes in Oklahoma, but the state has recorded more magnitude-3.0 temblors in nine months than it did in 2014, Energy Wire’s Mike Soraghan reports.

About 20 minutes before midnight Monday, Oklahoma topped last year’s total with its 586th earthquake of magnitude 3 or greater. Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) data indicate that a magnitude-3.3 quake about 20 miles east of Enid was the one that broke the record. The state has averaged 2.5 quakes a day in 2015. If that rate continues, Oklahoma would have more than 912 quakes this year. California has had fewer than 90 quakes this year, so Oklahoma has had more than six times as many.

Read more at: www.eenews.net

“Severn Trent Assessed Biggest Environmental Fine in State History”

The $3.17 million penalty is the biggest ever levied in Oklahoma “for failing to meet minimum chlorine standards,” the paper’s Sarah Terry-Cobo reports: “The company’s operations potentially put 8,123 Hugo-area residents at risk of drinking unsafe water for 317 days over two years, an Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality investigation found.”

The fine is three times larger than any other levied by the agency’s Water Quality Division, said Director Shellie Chard-McClary. The DEQ outlined the federal and state laws the company allegedly violated in an administrative compliance order issued Aug. 7.
An agency audit found the company didn’t use enough chlorine; in some cases, no chlorine at all was detected in drinking water samples submitted to the agency. Improperly disinfected water can contain dangerous bacteria, viruses and parasites such as E. coli, norovirus and Giardia that can pose an immediate public health danger.

Read more at: journalrecord.com

Oil Industry-Linked Earthquakes Could Rattle Economy, Credit Agency Says

The U.S. Geological Survey is trying to model the potential hazards of oil and gas-linked earthquakes and how to account for them on national maps, like this preliminary version.


The U.S. Geological Survey is trying to model the potential hazards of oil and gas-linked earthquakes and how to account for them on national models, like this preliminary map.

A boom of earthquakes linked to oil and gas production “has and will continue to have sharp economic consequences” in Oklahoma and other states experiencing man-made seismicity, Standard and Poor’s Rating Services analysts write in a recent report.

The seismic activity may be a liability for energy companies and the oil and gas industry, and will affect home and business owners, mortgage lenders and “investors exposed to real estate” in seismically active areas, according to analysts Andrew Foster, Robert Radziul and Stephen Anderberg. Continue Reading

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