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StateImpact Oklahoma

Clinton, Oklahoma, resident Cindy Box and her Horse, Rosie, at Foss State Park.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

In March, the legislature asked state agencies how they would deal with worst-case budget reductions of nearly 15 percent. A cut that deep at the Department of Tourism could cost Oklahoma half of its state parks.

Bob Kerr on his ranch near Carnegie, Okla., which is flanked by turbines from the Blue Canyon Wind Farm.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

 

One major tax incentive for wind energy remains on the books in Oklahoma. And the Legislature is poised to end it — more than three years early. The politics of renewable energy have changed as state revenues have failed, but some wind producers say lawmakers are reneging on a deal that sends a bad message to any industry considering investing in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma’s wind industry has grown year after year. With 3,400 turbines spread across 41 wind farm projects, the state ranks No. 3 in the nation in the American Wind Energy Association’s report on wind power capacity.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric's Muskogee Power Plant.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order to roll back many Obama-era rules meant to combat climate change. Politico’s Alex Guillén reports many of the directives in the order are geared toward making it easier to produce coal used for power generation:

Rancher and water advocate Gary Greene owns land near Pennington Creek.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Pennington Creek in south-central Oklahoma is the only source of drinking water for the town of Tishomingo. Residents there are worried limestone mining operations threaten the creek. Now, the city council is taking on the companies doing the digging.

Guthrie Fire Chief Eric Harlow.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Crews have worked for more than a week to contain a massive wildfire that has torched more than a thousand square miles and killed one person and thousands of head of livestock in northwestern parts of Oklahoma. State budget cuts mean Oklahoma increasingly depends on other states to fight its largest and most dangerous wildfires.

A week after the fire started, state forestry director George Geissler oversaw the state’s response at a makeshift operations center at the Woodward County Fairgrounds.

A field medic raises her fist as protestors stand near a fire blocking a road along the Dakota Access Pipeline Route near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.
Oceti Sakowin Camp / CC BY-NC 2.0

Oklahoma legislators are advancing a bill that outlaws trespassing on sites containing “critical infrastructure.” Supporters say the measure will help prevent damage and disruption of energy markets, electric grids and water services, but environmental activists and civil rights groups say the bill’s real purpose is to block political protests of pipelines and similar projects.

‘A NUMBER ON MY ARM’

U.S. Drought Monitor

Frigid temperatures never fully took hold in Oklahoma this winter. February saw record high temperatures, and instead of ice and snow, wildfires were the main weather-related concern, and drought — though improved — has persisted across much of the state.

In a statement summarizing February’s weather highlights and looking ahead to March, State Climatologist Gary McManus says the first two months of 2017 broke the record for the warmest combined January and February in state history.

Atoka Lake in southeast Oklahoma is in the middle of the state's most drought affected area.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Drought is back in Oklahoma. More than half the state now falls in the extreme drought category, and normally water-rich southeast Oklahoma is bearing the brunt of a very dry fall and winter.

Tree stumps poke above Atoka Lake’s surface, and it’s easy to see where the water line used to reach. In early 2016, lake levels were high. But now, Atoka is in the bullseye of the worst of Oklahoma’s current drought. Atoka Emergency Manager Derrick Mixon says last week’s snowstorm didn’t help much.

A foreman at the Shirley Ranch helps unload a trailer of Red Angus cattle to winter in a pasture near Alva, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A federal investigation has been launched into the alleged embezzlement of $2.6 million by an employee of an obscure state board that promotes the beef industry, money created by a mandatory government program funded by farmers and ranchers.

An abandoned gas station near Edmond, Oklahoma.
Michael Kesler / Flicker/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Oklahoma lawmakers are staring into a budget hole that’s nearly $900 million deep — and they might not be able to cut their way out of it. Legislators are considering tax increases to help fund state government, and one idea is gaining traction: Hiking taxes on gasoline and diesel.

State taxes on motor fuel haven’t been touched since 1987. There are a lot of similarities between the situation then and what Oklahoma lawmakers now face: An economy shaken by low oil prices and dwindling revenue streams to fund state government.

Sheldon Stauffer outside the Lighthouse Bait and Tackle shop in Kingston, Okla.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Lake Texoma State Park was once one of Oklahoma’s most popular parks. Then much of it was sold to a private development firm that has yet to fulfill its promise to build a multi-million dollar resort. The matter was recently settled in court, but many local residents don’t like the results.

Not What It Used To Be

J.C. Goodson stands in the warehouse of Rainmaker Sales in Shawnee, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The State of Oklahoma and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation are clashing in court over the growth of a tribally controlled rural water district. The state is questioning the district’s legal status, but tribal leaders suspect the confrontation is about politics — not water pipes.

J.C. Goodson is in the plastic pipe business. He sells tons of the stuff — seriously, tons.

“That coil weighs 2,000 to 3,000 pounds depending on the diameter,” Goodson says, showing off truck-sized spools of polyethylene pipe that line the 10-acre gravel yard behind Rainmaker Sales in Shawnee.

State Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester
Provided / Oklahoma House of Representatives

State Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, and three of his House colleagues on Monday wrote a letter to Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt asking for his opinion on whether it’s legal for members of the state Water Resources Board to stay on the OWRB even after their positions have been eliminated.

Renegar wrote on behalf of Representatives Donnie Condit, Ed Cannaday, and Johnny Tadlock, all from southeast Oklahoma:

Atoka Lake in southeast Oklahoma, a focal point of the controversy over who controls water in that part of the state.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Southeast Oklahoma has many of the state’s largest lakes and rivers and much of the state’s water, but no one from the area serves on the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, the state’s water regulator. A 2013 law requires the area to have representation. But, so far, that hasn’t happened.

Water But No Rep

Wheat farmer Fred Schmedt stands in one of his family's fields south of Altus, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Heavy rains delayed the 2016 wheat harvest in Oklahoma, but the yield could be better than recent years. Many farmers, however, are still making up losses from a drought that climatologists warn could be returning.

It’s a hot, dry and relatively windless day south of Altus in southwest Oklahoma. Eight to 11 inches of rain has fallen in the area over the last few weeks, and Fred Schmedt is on his cell phone trying to keep large trucks and tractor-trailers off his field.

A flowchart from ODOT's new manual on inspecting bridges after earthquakes.
Oklahoma Department of Transportation

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has changed its post-earthquake bridge-inspection plan after a year-long study showed no structural damage from seismic activity.

Under the new plan, which went into effect April 1, ODOT will only inspect bridges after magnitude 4.7 or greater quakes. Regions where bridge inspections are required will expand as earthquake intensity increases:

A disposal well in Northern Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Environmental groups are threatening to file a federal lawsuit against four Oklahoma energy companies over earthquakes linked to oil and gas activity.

Scientists say the industry practice of pumping oil and gas waste fluid underground is likely responsible for Oklahoma’s earthquake boom.

The oil hub in Cushing, Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

State oil and gas regulators on Friday expanded limits on disposal wells near Cushing, Oklahoma. The shutdowns and volume limits come amid renewed worry about earthquake activity near one of the country’s largest crude oil storage hubs.

Richard Masoner / Flickr.com

A story detailing how University of Oklahoma officials sought a $25 million donation from an oil executive while scientists at the school formulated a state agency’s position on oil and gas-triggered earthquakes is under fire from both the university president and the billionaire oilman. 

University of Oklahoma graduate students near Wellston, Okla., installing a seismometer to study central-Oklahoma's earthquake swarm
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A series of peer-reviewed papers published June 2 in The Leading Edge detail new research on disposal well-triggered earthquakes in Oklahoma.

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