During the July Osage Minerals Council meeting, Minerals Council Director Bill Lynn discussed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in association with well data maintained by the BIA.
Well data is considered vital to exploration and production, and has been available to producers for over a hundred years. In 2015, the BIA began requiring formal written requests to access the information. FOIA requests can be time consuming and burdensome. When questioned, Regional Director Eddie Streater said in a July 2017 Osage News article, that a Washington D.C. Solicitor went through the well files and realized that, “the records contain proprietary information.”
Lynn, a geologist and longtime veteran of the Osage oil business, is more than familiar with well records. He has worked with well data in both offices and in the oil fields. Lynn said, “The oil and gas exemptions for FOIA include geologic maps and seismic. There has been no ruling on well files. The only thing proprietary about oil and gas well files would be if someone accidentally dropped their wallet in one.”
According to FOIA.gov, agencies are authorized to withhold information only “… when they reasonably foresee that disclosure would harm an interest protected … exemptions.” Barring a lost wallet, it is difficult to see what the BIA finds ‘harmful’ about allowing oil producers access to well data.
In addition to FOIA, the Bureau has been playing fast and loose with the application and enforcement of other rules and regulations to the harm and extreme detriment of oil production activity. Lynn said that “obtaining authorization for incidental take of the American Burying Beetle (ABB) under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act is optional.” Why then, asks Lynn, is the Bureau making Individual Certification Programs (ICP) a requirement for Osage County producers?
“Under the ICP, operators must have surveys performed for ABB presence at an approximate cost of $5,000 per survey. If ABBs are present then ABB conservation credits must be purchased at a cost of $15,000 to $30,000 per well, and additional cost that will prematurely end the economic life of many Osage oil and gas fields,” said Fred Storer, Hydration Engineering, PLLC. According to Storer, the states of Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota are exempt from this requirement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) because of the small amount of ABB habitat compromised. Oil and gas production in the Osage occupies only about one percent of the total surface, yet the restrictions are flagrantly and brutishly imposed. This is blatant unequal application of the law.
Lynn said, “NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) – continual push by the BIA for additional regulation changes not only suppresses oil and gas activity on the Osage Minerals Estate, but also ignores the sovereignty expressed by the OMC through numerous resolutions and letters.”
Councilman Talee Redcorn, speaking in the Osage language, said to Lynn, “O-Ki-E Thali.” (Good speaking). Lynn responded in Osage and for a while – again – or still, business was conducted in Osage. In English, Redcorn thanked Lynn and stated he did agree with him. Redcorn said that for years there has been a continual wave of efforts by the BIA to use NEPA, FOIA and ABB against the Osage, their sovereignty, and the full use and enjoyment of their Mineral Estate.
In solidarity with Redcorn and Lynn, Councilwoman Stephanie Erwin said, “What we are talking about here, or should be talking about, is breach of trust.” Erwin has long and often stated her concerns over the unequal application of rules and regulation against Osage oil producers. Erwin reckons the uptick in harassment coincides with the Osage Trust Settlement.
As reported by the Osage News in a June 18, 2013 article, “The Osage Trust Case settlement was the result of an 11-year legal battle … that awarded the Osage Tribe approximately $330 million ... as a result of government mismanagement of trust assets.”
It’s not only members of the Osage Minerals Council who notice the vindictive knee-jerk kick in the groin by the BIA. Rob Lyon, Osage Producers Association, said to the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise in a June 11, 2015 article, that “…shortly after the settlement was announced in late 2011 … challenges began to get more complicated for the association’s lease operators almost immediately.” He said, “Doing business in Osage County oil fields has been increasingly difficult since the U.S. government settled a class-action lawsuit over its historic mismanagement.”
Since Lyon’s observations, the Bureau’s attempts at slowing production have only increased in virulence as they have gone unchecked and have been successful.