The Bureau of Indian Affairs has released a new draft version of a county-wide environmental impact study.
Published in the Nov. 22 edition of the Federal Register, the current proposed statement offers four courses of action the BIA could take regarding environmental standards for drilling permits across Osage County.
Option No. 1 would be for the BIA to simply not take any new action and continue administering oil and gas leasing, drilling permits and workover activities in Osage County.
Option No. 2 would put an emphasis on oil and gas development by requiring site-specific environmental assessments before drilling permits are issued. Based on production data, it projects that it would allow for an estimated 4,761 new wells by 2037.
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.
Among the alternatives explicitly ruled out in the draft was the possibility of basing plans on oil pricing or the number of active leases in the county. Both were dismissed on the grounds that both are factors beyond the BIA’s control.
A work in progress for six years and counting, the original draft version was widely panned by producers and shareholders alike as unnecessary governmental overreach, prompting additional listening sessions in 2016 and 2017.
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 comment period is open for 45 days; However, the Osage Minerals Council indicated its interest in asking for an extension at its Nov. 20 meeting due in part to the pending holiday season.
As per the notice in the Federal Register, a public meeting is also on the horizon, but the date and location have not yet been set.
“It’s a process,” Second Chair Andrew Yates said. “We need to respond that we want the best option for oil and gas production.”