U.S. Sens. James Lankford and Markwayne Mullin and 3rd District Congressman Frank Lucas asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs on Friday to reconsider implementation of complex new rules for Osage oil and gas production.
“As drafted, (the rule) would negatively impact all headright owners’ ability to utilize their own resources on their own land,” says a letter from the three to Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland.
Osage Nation leaders expressed similar opposition to BIA officials on March 30, according to a transcript of that meeting at the Osage Casino in Tulsa.
“Instead of strengthening BIA’s control over the mineral estate, strengthen our minerals council’s control over the mineral estate,” Osage Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said during the meeting, according to the transcript.
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The 1.5 million-acre Osage mineral estate has been the source of much strife and controversy over the past 117 years, including murder and charges of mismanagement and theft.
The estate was established under a 1906 treaty by which the Osages agreed to allotment of their reservation — present Osage County — purchased from the Cherokee Nation in 1872 in order to create the state of Oklahoma.
But while the surface of the reservation was allotted individually, all mineral rights continued to be held collectively. Each recognized tribal member at the time — 2,229 people — received one share, or headright. Because the number of headrights is fixed while the Osage population has grown (and some headrights are no longer owned by tribal members), individual holdings tend to be fractionalized.
Nevertheless, headrights continue to be an important income source for many Osages.
Much of the Osage oil and gas production is now small-scale, and tribal leadership say they’re concerned that some of the new rules will increase production costs to the point of shutting down marginal wells.
They also want more control of the estate, which is managed by the BIA, and they want the local BIA superintendent to have more flexibility in dealing with issues.
“We don’t need new rules,” Osage Minerals Council Chairman Everett Waller said in the March 30 meeting. “We just need the power sitting in the room with us to fix the problem.”
In their letter to Newland, Lucas and the two senators say the council “has repeatedly expressed the need for new regulations to benefit the Osage Mineral Estate, and headright holders, while balancing the responsibilities of the BIA as the trustee of the estate.
“Additional consultation efforts will provide an opportunity to reset that relationship, and find the best solution,” their letter says.
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