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.


Oklahoma voters have at least a year before seeing ads for and against state questions on the ballot in November 2016. But you might want to get used to hearing this phrase now: right-to-farm.

It’s a divisive national issue that’s made its way to the Sooner State, one that puts agriculture at odds with environmentalists and animal rights advocates.

In Missouri, it was a fight between two sides that loathe each other. The right-to-farm amendment narrowly passed there in 2014, and not until after a recount. Part of Missouri’s constitution now reads like this: “The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state.”

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A bill adding new regulations and oversight of Oklahoma’s booming wind industry passed a House committee on Tuesday.

House Bill 1549, one of several bills filed in the 2015 Legislature that target the wind industry, places limits on where companies can build new wind farms. The proposed measure would prevent new wind farms from being built near schools, hospitals or airports.

The bill was written by Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville. He says landowners and the wind industry were consulted when crafting the legislation.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

When New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a statewide ban on fracking in 2014, Oklahoma Rep. Casey Murdock took notice. After voters in the city of Denton, Texas — just 40 miles south of the Oklahoma state line — approved a fracking ban in the Nov. 4 election, the Republican representative from Felt took action.

“There is your anti-oil group,” the freshman lawmaker says. “We have activists outside the state that have come in and they’re pushing in these college cities.”

Murdock’s measure, House Bill 1395, is one of at least eight “local control” bills under consideration by the 2015 Legislature. The bills differ in the details, but they all limit, in some way, the power municipalities have to regulate oil and gas drilling or related activities, like fracking.

Michael Digg;es / U.S. Geological Survey

The daily occurrence of small earthquakes linked to oil and gas drilling in Oklahoma increases the likelihood of larger earthquakes, new research suggests.

State of Oklahoma

After 5 years of drought, Oklahoma’s dwindling water resources have the attention of state lawmakers. There are competing bills to study moving water from southeast Oklahoma to the Altus area, and to encourage self-sufficient, regionally based plans to meet future water needs.

Balancing the interests of Oklahomans who have plenty of water with those who desperately need it is a political fight, but not between Republicans and Democrats


In southeast Oklahoma, it’s easy to find people who are passionate about water, like Chuck Hutchinson with Oklahomans for Responsible Water Policy.

“The town of Clayton lost their economic base [when Sardis Lake was built],” Hutchinson says. “Now they’ve converted over the years to a tourism base because of the lake. Now if they take the water out, they’re going to lose twice.”

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The wind energy boom has largely evaded Oklahoma’s Panhandle, but new turbine projects and a proposal for a $2 billion transmission line could transform the prairie into a national wind energy hub.

But the projects are being planned amid uncertainty at the state Capitol, where tax credits for the wind industry are in the crosshairs.


Despite being one of the state’s richest sources of wind energy, the Oklahoma Panhandle is home to very few wind farms.

Carroll Beaman knows why. The fourth-generation farmer was born during the height of the Dust Bowl and still owns the homestead his family settled shortly after the turn of the century.

“It’s very sparsely settled,” he says. “No industry, except for some of the oil and gas, so it’s never had transmission.”

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

As earthquakes continue to rattle Oklahoma and scientists study links to oil and gas production, many Oklahomans want to know what, if anything, is being done to address the shaking.

An investigation by StateImpact shows that while authorities are quietly scrutinizing wells in quake-prone parts of the state, most of the companies that operate the wells are staying silent.

Marla’s Salon looks like a little house. It has a fence and a yard and a collie keeping watch at the door. Inside, the owner, Marla Stevens, snips and blow-dries. There’s buzzing in the salon, too, including clatter from hair clippers and chatter about earthquakes.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Most of western Oklahoma is in its fifth year of drought with still no end in sight, despite a wetter-than-normal-end to 2014.  And many of the lakes communities rely on for drinking water are now on the verge of being too low to use. The situation is most dire in Altus, Duncan and Canton.


The granite boulders and outcroppings that surround Lake Tom Steed, near Altus, are what make is so uniquely beautiful. They also tell a story of drought. The rocks are stained with the remnants of water that used to be here. For lake manager Will Archer, this is all very personal.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, and the creeks I always played on when I was a kid, they don’t run anymore,” Archer says. “Tom Steed is the life and the blood of southwest Oklahoma. Right now we’re providing 100 percent of the water to Altus. We’re providing over half of the water supply to Frederick. We’re providing, I think, about half the water supply to Snyder.”

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The sign on the front door says “closed,” but Pecan Creek Catering in New Cordell, Okla., is open for business. Out back, a tractor-trailer is being unloaded. Giant cans of green beans, tomatoes and mushrooms are hauled inside, where they’re sorted and stacked on metal shelves.

In the kitchen, Jennifer Etris pours a carton of buttermilk into a giant bowl and stirs.

“I cheat,” she says. “I use two of these ranch dressing mixes instead of one. It is known all over the world, my ranch dressing.”

U.S. Drought Monitor

The drought in southwest Oklahoma has lingered for more than four years now, and it will take more than a wet end to 2014 to stop it — a lot more.

Despite receiving above average December precipitation, the City of Duncan will ban all outdoor watering beginning next week. That’s because water levels in Waurika Lake, Duncan’s only current drinking water source, continue to drop.