Osage County drilling: Oklahoma wants more say on water rules
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON World Correspondent
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
3/19/13 at 7:08 AM
The state of Oklahoma may be getting involved in federal settlement talks to update oil and gas drilling policies in Osage County.
In separate letters to Eddie Streater, acting deputy director of trust services for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs' Eastern Oklahoma region, Oklahoma Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board requested that the federal government add language to its policies that would require oil and gas companies drilling in Osage County to honor state law with respect to ground water. The requirements would include getting permits from the state to use ground water or stream water for oil and gas production or exploration.
Currently, all drilling and exploration permits for Osage County are handled by the BIA's Pawhuska office.
"We hope that you amend the regulation as we have suggested," Wyrick wrote. "If not, the state may be forced to pursue all available legal remedies to protect its sovereign right to regulate the waters within its borders."
The regulations, which are under review by a negotiated rule-making committee of the Interior Department and the Osage Minerals Council as part of a $380 million lawsuit settlement, are specific to Osage County alone.
The $4 billion mineral estate is the largest single-owner mineral estate in the country and is among the top five oil-producing counties in Oklahoma.
During the committee's monthly public hearings, several landowners and ranchers have complained about producers contaminating their drainage ponds and well water by allowing saltwater to spew and run off unchecked from drill sites. However, the 1.4 billion-acre mineral estate is managed by the BIA, which means any environmental issues stemming from it are a federal affair.
"As a general matter, water rights are a complicated issue," Interior Department attorney Vanessa Ray-Hodge said last week during the committee's March meeting. "However, it is not true that all water is automatically subject to state law, as there are a whole host of issues involved.
"As a matter of black-letter law, the mineral estate trumps the surface. That mineral estate is held in trust and is subject to federal law."
The committee's last public meeting is scheduled April 2 at the Wah-Zha-Zhi Cultural Center in Pawhuska. Although public comments are welcome at the meeting, interested individuals and groups are asked to submit them by March 25 if possible so the committee has time to consider and incorporate the feedback in their draft proposal at the meeting.
After the April meeting, a final draft of the proposed revisions will be sent to the Interior Department for review. Ray-Hodge declined to give a definite timeline for when the regulations, if approved, would be enacted but said they potentially could be in place by the end of the year.
Original Print Headline: State seeks say on water
Oil leaking from a producing well runs down a hillside in Osage County west of Skiatook. Two state entities want federal authorities to require oil and gas companies to honor state law with respect to ground water. Tulsa World file