Columns , Minerals Council

Minerals Council working on digitizing records to aid oil producers hindered by FOIA

Well records are derived from oil and gas leases, and are maintained by the Bureau. These records have always been available to producers as a necessary part of production.

According to Nona Roach, an oil and gas consultant with Agape & Associates: “We were able to go into the BIA Operator's Room and review the lease files, get copies of assignments complete with the ownership information. We were also able to get Lease Production data for the past five years. If we needed to look at Drilling Records they were available and you could view adjoining lease information so you could see what formations that they drilled through, at what    depth and what the well completion reports showed on initial production of oil, gas and water. This is invaluable in determining where to drill new wells. Well Logs were REQUIRED to be in the files as they were completed also. This data was the most complete for any county in Oklahoma and made it desirable to come to the Osage for a ‘One Stop Shop.’ Copies were made as we waited!”

Two years ago, 2015, producers were told they had to a make a formal written request for information to access these files. FOIA had its original home in the Administrative Procedure Act, signed in 1946 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The intent was to allow access to information maintained by the government. According to Wikipedia.com, “Following concerns that the provision had become more of a withholding than a disclosure mechanism, Congress amended the section in 1966 as a standalone act to implement a general philosophy of full agency disclosure."

Roach said an operator now has to show that he is the Operator of Record to look at the files. If the operator wants to send Roach copies he has to print a letter giving her permission to view the files. If she doesn’t get what she needs on the first trip, she said the Osage Agency BIA Superintendent Robin Phillips requires her to get another letter from the operator in case they fired Roach since the last letter the operator turned in. She said operators can only get copies of logs on Thursday, and on Friday they’ll provide copies of lease files.

“I had two ladies that own a lease set up an appointment with [an employee from the BIA] fly in from Colorado and come to the designated meeting, only to be told that SHE WAS NOT AVAILABLE!” Roach said.

History repeats itself. The Bureau is using FOIA for “more of a withholding than a disclosure mechanism” impeding access to data vital to production. This directly contradicts the Congressional Act of 1906 provision reserving the mineral estate for the benefit of the Tribe. There is no benefit to the Tribe without producing the oil.

When asked, “what prompted the change from freely providing well data to requiring a formal FOIA request?” BIA Regional Area Director Eddie Streater said that, one day a solicitor from Washington came here to look at our records. He, the solicitor, determined that some of the information on file was covered by the Privacy Act and as such should be subject to FOIA. Streater was then asked which items were covered by the Privacy Act. He said he couldn’t say.

According to foia.gov, “The Freedom of Information Act generally provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information except to the extent the records are protected from disclosure by any of nine exemptions….”

The nine exemption categories do include “… geological and geophysical information.”

However, agencies are authorized to withhold information only “… when they reasonably foresee that disclosure would harm an interest protected by one of these nine exemptions,” according to foia.gov. It is difficult to conceive what the “Solicitors from Washington” could reasonably believe the disclosure of oil and gas data to oil and gas producers could harm.

Proactive advocacy by the Osage Minerals Council has prompted the development of a program whereby the Council will digitally store and make available well log data and all the information discussed above by Oil and Gas Consultant Nona Roach. The project will not use headright money in its development but, indeed, will increase headright income by increasing the amount of production.