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.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

The $7.1 billion state budget Governor Mary Fallin signed in June 2015 included deep cuts to the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation — the agency that runs the state park system. That could mean some parks will have to be closed or transferred to new operators, and some eastern Oklahoma lawmakers are fuming.

Generally, these parks aren’t big money makers for the state. Lake Thunderbird State Park near Norman is one of the most expensive parks the state runs. A little more than half a million people visited the park in 2013, and the park brought in about half a million dollars. But it cost $1.2 million to run. State funding makes up the difference, and that’s one reason why people who enjoy state parks in Oklahoma might be worried.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

When Governor Mary Fallin signed the $7.1 billion budget earlier this week, the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission took a big cut. It’s a small state agency with a big job: overseeing hundreds of miles of river and roads in northeast Oklahoma with dwindling resources.

This weekend, kayakers, floaters and fishermen will flock to the Illinois River area by the thousands. On the morning of June 2, though, most of the activity is centered at Peavine Hollow, where a natural ramp of river stones that usually allows easy access to the river has been washed away.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Two burly ben armed with sledgehammers take turns bashing a khaki-colored steel flange fastened to a pipe in the middle of a soggy, gravely lot near Wakita in northwestern Oklahoma.

The tangle of valves and fittings, called the Christmas tree, has to come off before Jay Storm’s crew can start their work in earnest.

“Everything is a little seized up this morning, so we’re having to manually try to get a couple different components separated by hand,” says Storm, completions supervisor for Tulsa-based Eagle Energy Exploration.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

May 2015 already ranks as one of the wettest in state history, and continues to snuff out the four-year drought that dried up cities in southwest Oklahoma. Water rationing helped keep Duncan, Lawton and Altus afloat, but those cities are now scaling back their water-saving mandates.


In Altus on May 19, the city council thanked God for the recent wet weather, and asked for the knowledge to be good stewards of this new bounty of water.

And to many people in Altus, it does feel like a miracle has happened. Craig Nance lives just outside town among greenhouses and young trees, all bursting with life. He says residents have been streaming to area lakes just to take a look at them.

“It’s a parade. And it’s fun to watch,” he says. “People are just driving to the lakes to see the water level. Gotta see it to believe it.”

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

On April 14, 1935, a rolling mountain of dust and sand swept through Oklahoma, choked out the sun and filled homes with dirt piles so high residents had to clean their homes with shovels. Survivors of the storm met Tuesday at the state Capitol to mark the eightieth anniversary of “Black Sunday."

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon near the town of Forgan in Oklahoma’s Panhandle. Pauline Hodges was 5-years-old at the time. She and her mother were visiting a neighbor when her friend’s father ran up to the backdoor and yelled...

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A booming U.S. oil industry has led to near-record amounts of oil production, which has helped drive down oil prices. The energy industry has responded by storing crude instead of selling it at discount rates. That has created a unique situation in Oklahoma, where a major oil storage hub is on track to fill up — completely.

One-fifth of the country’s commercial crude oil storage capacity is located Cushing, Okla., a small city of about 7,900 in northeastern Oklahoma. On the city’s outskirts, field after field are filled with hulking steel storage tanks.

Pumps, compressors and valves hum and shudder. Tanker trucks pull off the busy road and line up at terminals. Sci-fi chirps echo as welders and workers drag cables inside tanks they’re rushing to build. Cushing has room for 71 million barrels of oil, but it’s not enough.

As legislation written to prevent counties and municipalities from banning hydraulic fracturing and other oil and gas activities advances through the Oklahoma House and Senate, some city leaders and their advocates say the measures go too far and could have unintended consequences.


Oklahoma lawmakers have filed at least eight bills that would prohibit municipal or county bans — or effective bans — on oil and gas drilling, production and related activities like hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The legislation differs in the details, but the motivation is the same.

“A fracking ban is a drilling ban,” House Speaker Jeff Hickman said on the House floor during the March 16 session.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

In Oklahoma, the natural beauty of Lee Creek — one of the state’s scenic rivers — is protected by state law. In Arkansas, Lee Creek is an important water source for fast-growing Fort Smith. Now, Fort Smith has a plan to turn Lee Creek into Oklahoma’s next lake, and reignite a dispute that was settled more than 20 years ago.


If Fort Smith had its way in late 80s and early 90s, there’d already be a large reservoir on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border. The city’s plan back then was for a lake much larger than the current Lee Creek Reservoir that would spill into hundreds of acres of Sequoyah County — in Oklahoma.


Five years of drought has strangled lakes and reservoirs in southwestern Oklahoma.

The city of Lawton is considering extraordinary means to help fill water supplies. City leaders hope a man with an airplane can manipulate the weather and bring more rain.

Gary Walker has a lot of titles under his belt: Navy pilot, cowboy, water conservation district manager and four-term Texas lawmaker. But he’s not a rainmaker.

“I can’t put two inches of water on farmer Jones’ field; I have to just work with the clouds,” he says.

If he has the right clouds to work with, Walker says he can make them bigger, more voluminous and more likely to produce rain. The weather-modification process is known as “cloud-seeding.”

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Despite long-held suspicions that the state’s earthquake surge was linked to oil and gas activity, the Oklahoma Geological Survey stayed silent amid pressure from oil company executives, EnergyWire reports.