Community , Minerals Council

Relations between Minerals Council and Osage Agency improving, slowly

TULSA — With oil prices slumping nationally, tribal and federal officials at the Osage Oil and Gas Summit said they are putting a renewed emphasis on dialogue and collaboration.

“The view is positive,” Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said Dec. 12 before the roughly 90 attendees at Osage Casino Tulsa. “I see things coming together. The Osage Minerals Council has the shareholders’ interests at heart and all the components … are starting to talk to each other more where we haven’t in the past.

“We have all of these pieces that we’re putting together. We are one team.”

Among the areas of collaboration emphasized at the Summit was how to address the American Burying Beetle’s impact on oil and gas operations. Discussions are underway to potentially set aside 5,000 acres of the Bluestem Ranch as a refuge for the endangered species that has hampered production efforts in the Osage for years.

The council also hinted at the possibility of seeking a categorical exclusion in 2019 from the U.S. Office of Fish and Wildlife, or a statement that local drilling operations do not have any significant impact on the insect’s environment.

“My office has no control over the American Burying Beetle situation, but I’m hopeful that we can help,” Bureau of Indian Affairs Pawhuska Agency Superintendent Robin Phillips said. “I’m hopeful that we can address some of the producers’ obstacles next year.”

At the time of the Summit, the highest posted price for a barrel of Osage County oil was $47.75 per barrel, down more than $20 from September.

“To my shareholders and producers: look for the bright side,” Chairman Everett Waller said. “We’ve weathered some tough times.

“Come and join us next year when oil will be $102 per barrel again. We’ll show you a great time.”

Despite multiple references to the thawing relationship, at least one area remains where several council members still see room for improvement. At a session about a federal grant received by the Osage Minerals Council to address more than 1,600 orphan oil wells dotting the mineral estate, well committee members mentioned that they have struggled to receive the necessary information from the Pawhuska Agency to fulfill their obligations over the next 11 months.

Although the agency did provide a list of orphan wells to the committee, most of its contents, including the wells’ depths and previous operators, were redacted under claims of trade secrets.

“The first set of documents we received in 2017 from the agency was not redacted,” geologist and orphan well committee member Bill Lynn said. “The second set was partially redacted. The third set looked worse than the Kennedy papers, as it looked like they’d just taken a Sharpie to everything.”

Lynn said the committee has only been able to get a full set of information on a specific orphan well if they can show that there is an environmental emergency at the site, such as seepage or a leaking tank battery.

“We know about five wells that are destroying our environment,” he said. “In my opinion, every single well is an emergency because we don’t know if it’s got casing leaking or something else going on.”

Earlier this year, the council approved acquiring two surplus vehicles for the committee to visit the well sites in question. The vehicles will be on the road once car insurance and gas money are squared away.

“We’re not doing this Pawhuska style,” Councilor Talee Redcorn cracked, drawing chuckles from the crowded room.