BIA re-opens public input for oil field assessments

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

The Bureau of Indian Affairs recently re-opened public discussions about revising a draft of the Environmental Impact Statement for Osage County oil and gas operations.

A Scoping Meeting held last week at the Wah-Sha-She Cultural Center was similar to others that have been held here over the past three years, as the current EIS process has been going since July 2013.

Osage Minerals Council chairman Everett Waller appeared at the Thursday meeting and was the leadoff speaker for the public input portion of the meeting. Waller said the draft that was released last November was “fatally flawed” by its failure to abide by provisions of the 1906 Act, in which the Osages retained all mineral rights in Osage County when the surface was allotted prior to Oklahoma statehood.

According to Waller, the current process relies on obligations set forth by the National Environmental Policy Act and Bureau of Indian Affairs Management policies, rather than the preferred 1906 Act. He called upon BIA officials “to reflect on the fact that these are Indian lands, not public lands.”

“They must be managed according to different standards, with regard to its trust status,” Waller said.

The 1906 Act gave the BIA responsibility for administering the development of oil and gas resources in Osage County — which contains approximately 1,476,500 acres — for the benefit of Osage tribal members.

A previous public scoping period was completed as part of the Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas (OKT) Joint EIS/Resource Management Plan scoping period which began on July 26, 2013. The targeted Osage Oil & Gas EIS was officially begun with the publication of a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register and concluded on January 31, 2014.

Based on a request of the Osage Minerals Council during consultation, the BIA decided to accelerate the National Environmental Policy Act analysis for oil and gas leasing and development in Osage County ahead of the schedule for the OKT Joint EIS/Resource Management Plan.

This planning process complies with the needs and obligations set forth by the National Environmental Policy Act and Bureau of Indian Affairs Management policies. The BIA will work collaboratively with interested parties to identify management decisions that are best suited to local, regional, and national needs and concerns.

The BIA will use an interdisciplinary approach to develop the EIS to ensure consideration of the variety of resource issues and concerns identified. Specialists with expertise in the following disciplines will be involved in the planning process: minerals and geology, archaeology, wildlife and fisheries, lands and realty, hydrology, soils, livestock grazing, recreation, sociology and economics.

Sunday, May 8, will be the final day of the public comment period. Written comments about “potential issues” or other matters related to the EIS can be mailed, emailed, hand delivered, or faxed to Jeannine Hale at the BIA Eastern Oklahoma Regional Office, P.O. Box 8002, Muskogee, Oklahoma 74402-8002; fax (918) 781-4667; email: osagecountyoilandgaseis@bia.gov.