StateImpact Oklahoma

StateImpact Oklahoma is a collaboration of KGOUKOSUKWGS and KCCU. Joe Wertz and Logan Layden travel the state to report on the intersection of government, industry, natural resources and the Oklahoma workforce.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The decades-old embargo on trade with communist Cuba cuts U.S. goods off from what would be one of their nearest international destinations. That could be changing now that the two countries are restoring diplomatic relations.

USACETULSA / Flickr

Two and a half million tons of wheat, fertilizer, steel, and manufacturing goods pass through the Port of Catoosa each year.

But not in 2015. The nation’s most inland seaport, located near Tulsa, shut down after historic spring rains and is still struggling to rebound.

From the Port of Catoosa, barges makes their way down the Verdigris River, to the Arkansas River and east to the Mississippi along the McClellan-Kerr Navigation system, Oklahoma’s water link to the Gulf of Mexico and river towns to the east like Pittsburg and Chicago. The waterway was the most expensive civil works project the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had ever built when it opened in 1971, and it was pushed by powerful Senator Robert S. Kerr, of Oklahoma.

“There’s over a billion and a half dollars of private investment, just at this port,” says David Yarbrough, the port’s deputy director. “8,000 maritime jobs in Oklahoma.”

Tamara Mix

After months of debate, drafting and deferring, the Stillwater City Council on Monday approved a stricter oil and gas ordinance.

The council unanimously approved the new rules, which were crafted with the input of residents, the energy industry and Senate Bill 809 — legislation that goes into effect in August preventing municipalities from enacting ordinances that ban fracking and other oil and gas activities, The Oklahoman‘s Adam Wilmoth reports:

The ordinance applies only to new wells. It imposes a 660-foot setback from the property line of “protected use” properties, including homes, churches, parks, schools, libraries and hospitals. It also forbids new structures being built within 400 feet of oil and gas wells put in after the ordinance becomes effective.

Ambient noise from drilling operations at the setback boundary will be limited to 69 decibels, which is about the same noise level as a vacuum cleaner. The ordinance includes higher variances from that sound level for limited periods of time.

Operators will be required to carry general liability commercial insurance policies of at least $1 million and environmental impairment insurance of at least $2 million. General umbrella liability coverage of at least $5 million also would apply.

Oklahoma oil and gas authorities are expanding regulations on disposal wells in earthquake-prone regions of the state. The orders, known as directives, were issued this week and broaden restrictions issued nearly four months ago.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The rate of earthquakes in Oklahoma appears to be accelerating, and the state is responding.

Lawmakers have scheduled capitol hearings and oil and gas regulators will soon issue stricter guidelines on disposal wells linked to the shaking. Future earthquakes are a big concern, but one Oklahoma institution is still dealing with the damage one quake caused nearly four years ago.

St. Gregory’s University is an Oklahoma earthquake icon. When the 5.7-magnitude quake struck near the city of Prague in November 2011, one of the school’s century-old, Tudor Gothic-style towers collapsed. Another started spitting bricks.

The earthquake is Oklahoma’s largest recorded with modern instruments. It’s also the largest earthquake anywhere that scientists have linked to disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry. Two people were injured. None at St. Gregory’s.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

In November 2011, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck near Prague, Okla., causing significant damage and injuring two people. Right away, the possibility that the disposal of wastewater by injecting it deep into the earth — part of the hydraulic fracturing process — was to blame came up.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

More than 2,000 dams in Oklahoma have protected lives and property from flooding for decades. But age is catching up with them, and many need repairs. And this spring’s record rainfall is putting dams under even more pressure.

Catastrophic flooding used to just be part of life in Oklahoma. Ask anyone who was around in the late 1950s, like Allen Hensley, who grew up on Rock Creek in south-central Oklahoma.

“My dad took me down and showed me Rock Creek when I was a boy; and a beautiful corn crop,” Hensley says. “And the next day it was water, flooded.”

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

As Oklahoma’s earthquake swarm developed over the past few years, State Seismologist Austin Holland’s work days got a lot longer. That’s the main reason Holland is leaving his position in Oklahoma to be a supervisory geophysicist at the Albuquerque Seismic Lab.

From The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies:

“I have averaged about 80 hours each week for the 5 1/2 years I’ve been here,” Holland said Monday in an emailed statement. “I want to change my work-life balance, and this opportunity is a good way to do that.”

Since Holland came to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, the state has seen a rapid increase in earthquakes, some of which have been linked to disposal wells used for produced water from oil and gas activity.

Flickr / USACETULSA

The McClellan-Kerr Navigation System that connects the Port of Catoosa — the nation’s furthest inland seaport — to the Gulf of Mexico is “a hell of a mess” after the area got nearly 20 inches of rain in May and June, port director Bob Portiss tell’s the Tulsa World.

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