Joe Wertz

StateImpact Oklahoma

Joe 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.

Ways to Connect

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s earthquake surge and possible links to oil and gas activity have been studied in scientific papers, discussed at heated town-hall meetings and explored regulatory hearings.

The quakes are now triggering some rumblings at the state Capitol.

About 4,000 earthquakes have shaken Oklahoma this year, data from the Oklahoma Geological Survey show. Most of the quakes have been small — roughly 10 percent were 3.0-magnitude or greater, the threshold at which seismologists say the temblors are likely perceivable.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

In the ongoing debate about Oklahoma’s wind industry and whether it needs stricter regulation, two types of property owners have been the most vocal: those who hate the idea of turbines next door, and those eager to lease land to a wind company.

But there’s a voice that’s been largely absent from the discussion so far: Landowners who have wind farms and like them.

Family, Factory

For four generations, Monte Tucker’s family has been squeezing life out of the land. Dead tree stumps become renewable winter energy sources. And if you have an excited 3-year-old boy with a hatchet, like Tucker’s son Reid, the labor to harvest that energy comes with zero cost.

“For some reason, he’s just been obsessed with chopping firewood lately,” Tucker says as he watches his son drag a stump onto the gravel driveway of the family’s home.

MTNEER_MAN / FLICKR

Corporation Commission meetings are usually pretty dull, but the Sept. 11 technical conference on wind energy was standing room only. It was lively — and theatrical.

When Tammy Huffstutlar of Calumet took her turn at the microphone, she cued up recordings of whirring wind turbines to accompany her testimony.

“I don’t know if you can hear this or not, but this is my life,” she told Corporation Commissioners Dana Murphy and Bob Anthony, who presided over the meeting. “That’s why I’m here talking about property rights and regulation.”

There are more than 78,000 miles of rivers and streams in Oklahoma. But 200 of those miles are unique — Oklahoma’s scenic rivers. They are some of the state’s most environmentally sensitive waterways, and the state grants them special protections.

StateImpact reporters Logan Layden and Joe Wertz spent a month exploring the rivers for a documentary about the rivers' history and the environmental threats they face.

Joe Wertz / State Impact Oklahoma

At an interim hearing at the state capitol Tuesday, a state representative from north-central Oklahoma questioned whether the state was properly inspecting oil and gas wells and had the rules necessary to prevent contamination of water supplies.

Republican Representative Steve Vaughan of Ponca City conducted the interim study and held the hearing. Vaughan is concerned about saltwater pollution in Kay and Noble Counties, which has had large-scale fish-kills for three years in a row.

At a meeting Tuesday, Oklahoma Corporation Commission has stepped up monitoring and inspections of disposal wells in earthquake-prone regions of the state.

The efforts come as regulators, scientists and energy companies gather new information on the links between earthquakes and oil and gas production.

Agency inspectors are focusing on a small fraction of the roughly 12,000 injection wells where oil and gas waste is pumped deep underground.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Politicians, agency leaders and energy industry executives gathered in Oklahoma City Thursday for the Governor’s Energy Conference. The annual event is largely promotional, but as Joe Wertz from StateImpact reports, it also serves as a preview of the biggest energy policy topics for the coming year.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

This is the final part of StateImpact Oklahoma’s series on the history of Oklahoma’s scenic rivers and the environmental threats they face. Part three is available here.

Eddie Brister knows how the stream warms and cools, and where the current rushes and pools. He knows every pebble in the river, and he can spot a trout without even dipping his waders in the water.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

This is part two of StateImpact Oklahoma’s four-part series on the history of Oklahoma’s scenic rivers and the environmental threats they face. Part one is available here.

Bob Deitrick checks the snaps on his bright orange life vest, crouches and checks all the gear one last time. The Owasso father’s son and his two friends are behind him, impatiently paddling in circles.

Oklahoma is the nation's fourth-largest generator of wind energy. But wind developers in the northeast corner of the state, where the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve lies, are up against stiff opposition from an unlikely pair of allies: environmentalists and oil interests.

Bob Hamilton, director of the Nature Conservancy's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, has been fighting to block construction of a 68-turbine wind farm.

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