Community , Minerals Council , Legal

Three Osage County producers challenge EPA shutdown order

TULSA, Okla. — Three Osage County producers are challenging a shutdown order from the Environmental Protection Agency for seven wells along Bird Creek.

On Friday, attorneys for Jireh Resources LLC, Novy Oil and Gas and Warren American Oil Company LLC filed civil complaints in the Northern District of Oklahoma, claiming that the agency does not have enough proof that their wells are responsible for contaminating Bird Creek.

“The totality of the evidence does not support ongoing contamination,” attorneys Valerie Giebel, John Randolph and Robert Winter wrote on behalf of Jireh Resources. “It was the result of a one-time event. There have been no visible hydrocarbons currently in the water and no signs of hydrocarbons in the sands, rocks or gravels.”

Citing the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA ordered the three companies in December to shut down a combined seven wells west of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve along a northern tributary of Bird Creek.

The pollution first came to light in August 2016, when an oily sheen, extreme salinity levels and dead aquatic animals were noticed on a tributary-fed pond on Chapman Ranch.

Initially thought to be caused by a wastewater spill or illegal dumping, the EPA announced in July that it traced the contamination to over-pressurized reservoirs connected to the seven wells. That in turn prompted the EPA to issue a temporary shutdown order in August and in accordance with federal law, held a public hearing on the matter in October.

The three Tulsa companies also maintain that they were not given sufficient opportunity to put their rebuttal arguments into the public record both at the hearing and afterwards before the final shutdown order was issued in December.

“The order ignored substantial evidence,” Warren American’s attorneys wrote in the civil complaint. “The defendants made no attempt to understand and ignored the evidence in the record.”

According to court documents, at the time the order was issued, Jireh Resources still had a Freedom of Information Act request pending with the EPA in an effort to fortify its argument against the shutdown order.

“The EPA’s issuance of the final order without any advance notice or fair warning … has effectively denied Jireh of any reasonable opportunity to conduct this appeal based on the full and complete record, consisting of all evidence deemed relevant to the parties hereto,” Giebel, Randolph and Winter wrote.

At the Osage Minerals Council’s Jan. 17 meeting, OMC director Bill Lynn said the situation has cost the estate’s shareholders about 70 lost barrels per day.

A spokeswoman for the EPA’s Dallas-based Region 6 office, which includes Oklahoma and the Osage Nation in its purview, did not respond to calls Thursday seeking comment.