Two Republican Oklahoma senators, Jim Inhofe and James Lankford, sent a letter to the Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, asking her to find a solution to stop the new oil and gas regulations from taking effect in Osage County.
The two-page letter, sent on July 9, said the Bureau of Indian Affairs has a fiduciary duty to ensure economic vitality for the Osage Minerals Estate. They mentioned the Bureau’s efforts to update compliance procedures for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which “nearly brought to a complete halt the drilling of new oil and natural gas wells in Osage County for about a year.”
They felt the Bureau’s recent actions to address their concerns were mere “window dressings” and the problems aren’t being fixed.
Shortly thereafter, rumors of a legislative fix reached the doorsteps of the Osage Nation through David Mullen, the Nation’s attorney in Washington, D.C. The word on Capitol Hill was that Inhofe and Lankford were planning to file legislation that would take the minerals oversight authority from the BIA and give it to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. The OCC would then have full jurisdiction over our Minerals Estate. Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb proposed the same thing a few years ago and he publicly opposed it.
“That essentially would destroy the trust responsibility over our mineral estate,” Standing Bear said. “It’s stuff like this that keeps me up at night.”
Standing Bear flew to Washington to meet with the staffs of Inhofe and Lankford on July 20-21. Standing Bear was already scheduled to attend the National Indian Gaming Association’s summer legislative summit that week.
He met with Lankford’s staff first and said the meeting was very productive and the staff was forthcoming with information.
“I immediately stated I was concerned about the Osage government having been left out of the many discussions concerning the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Osage Minerals Council and the producers,” he said. “I also told them I was concerned about what [Mullen] had learned about some factions of the producers wanting the Oklahoma Corporation Commission taking over the Bureau of Indian Affairs functions concerning our minerals estate.”
Standing Bear said Derek Osbourne, who works for Lankford, said he knew of no legislation in Lankford’s office pertaining to the Osage Minerals Estate. Standing Bear also spoke with Inhofe’s staff and they assured him no legislative action would take place – at this time.
“Course, like all politicians they keep their options open. But they also deferred to the [minerals council’s] federal lawsuit, and it’s practice not to interfere with what’s going on in federal court by doing legislation,” Standing Bear said. “As long as the federal lawsuit is ongoing, they’re not going to try to take any actions.”
The Northern District Court of Oklahoma will hear the minerals council’s lawsuit at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 10 in Tulsa.