Minerals Council

New draft EIS could prohibit drilling on a third of Osage County

The Osage Minerals Council is preparing to take its concerns over an environmental impact study to federal court should the Bureau of Indian Affairs expand the list of areas considered off limits to oil and gas production.

At the council’s Jan. 3 meeting, several council members reiterated their distaste for two of the four potential courses of action for the BIA in a draft county-wide environmental impact statement regarding drilling operations in the Osage.

“If it’s option 3 or 4, I have to publicly say that you’ll see us in court,” Chairman Everett Waller said.

Referred to in the study as a hybrid, option No. 3 would take into account the density of wells in an area before allowing new drilling permits, with fewer issued for sections with 17 wells or more. Sections with a lower well density would be subject to spacing regulations, including buffer zones for culturally significant sites.

Additionally, it would incorporate a blanket ban on drilling permits for areas within municipalities, near sensitive water supplies or near “highly vulnerable” groundwater supplies as designated by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.

Option No. 4 would add to the list of site-specific protective measures that would have to be taken in order to get a drilling permit. For example, an emergency plan to provide drinking water would now have to be in place ahead of time in the event that a lessee’s activities contaminate an area’s existing supply.

It would also expand the list of areas now off-limits for new permits to include the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, all state parks, state wildlife management areas, municipalities, pasture areas used by the Bureau of Land Management for wild horses and any lakes administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Altogether, the no drilling zone under Option No. 4 would cover about one-third of Osage County.

The final version of the statement, whenever it is approved and enacted, is slated to replace a blanket declaration issued in 1979 that oil and gas operations in Osage County have no significant environmental impact.

The final version of the statement, whenever it is approved and enacted, is slated to replace a blanket declaration issued in 1979 that oil and gas operations in Osage County have no significant environmental impact.

Councilors have also balked at the timeline given for public comments on the draft study. The study was published in the Nov. 22 edition of the Federal Register. Thanks to the multiple holidays during the original 45-day window, the comment period was initially extended to Jan. 22. In the Jan. 10 edition of the Federal Register, an additional extension was announced through Feb. 21.  

The council’s attorney, Wilson Pipestem, has been authorized to formally request additional time. In the interim, the council voted 5-0 at its Jan. 3 meeting to retain Osage Nation Environmental Services to help draft feedback to the proposal after being reassured by Eddy Red Eagle and David Conrad that the firm could get the job done with or without a deadline extension.

Councilors Andrew Yates, Myron Red Eagle and Margo Gray abstained from the vote to hire ONES.