Osage Chief: Keep Corporation Commission Paws off Trust

By Kyle Walker / Originally published July 23, 2015 in The Bigheart Times

BARNSDALL, Okla.—A flurry of long-distance politicking was unleashed late last week by rumors that some oil and gas producers want the Oklahoma Corporation Commission take over oil and gas regulation in Osage County.

Such a step would require an act of Congress, since the rights of Osage shareholders to the mineral estate are governed by the 1906 Osage Allotment Act.

In a Facebook post, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear announced Friday that “a faction of the [Osage Producers Association]” supports the plan and that he would use an already scheduled trip to Washington, D.C., to address the issue.

Rumors of OPA support for Corporation Commission jurisdiction were vigorously denied by Shane Matson, president of the OPA, at the Friday meeting of the Osage Minerals Council.

“There is no such discussion, nor has there ever been any such discussion within the OPA,” Matson told the Council.

In his post, Standing Bear warned of the consequences of “letting Oklahoma take over our mineral estate and take away our federal trust … The proposal is exactly what I heard Oklahoma Lt. Gov. [Todd] Lamb say to the OPA at the Woolaroc meeting a few months ago. I objected then and I will object now … I am going to find out personally what is happening.”

Standing Bear also singled out state Rep. Sean Roberts, who once penned a measure designed to put Osage County under Corporation Commission jurisdiction. Roberts declined to be interviewed for this story.

Lieutenant Governor Lamb’s Chief of Staff, Keith Beall, could not say whether the lieutenant governor is in favor of extending Corporation Commission jurisdiction to the Osage mineral estate. He did say that some producers had expressed interest in that approach at various meetings with the lieutenant governor or his staff.

“They’ve expressed interest in getting the U.S. senators to get the [BIA] off high center,” Beall said. “They’ve expressed interest in a lawsuit. They’ve expressed interest in the Corporation Commission.”

But he stopped short of committing the lieutenant governor’s office to any particular approach.

“We’re for any avenue that would lead to more production of oil and natural gas in Osage County,” he said.

Chief Standing Bear was already set to be in D.C. on Tuesday and Wednesday for the National Indian Gaming Association mid-year legislative summit and took the opportunity to arrange Monday meetings with Senate staff.

“They wanted to know our view,” Standing Bear said by telephone from D.C. “Senator Inhofe’s people wanted to know why it would be a bad thing for the [Corporation Commission] to take over regulation. That was one of the first things they said when we said we were concerned. They wanted to know why it would be a bad idea.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is currently responsible for enforcing the regulations that govern oil and gas production in Osage County and approving leases made out by the Minerals Council.

The BIA is further charged with managing the federal trust relationship between the Osages and the federal government. Removing the BIA would threaten that relationship.

“[Corporation Commission jurisdiction] would mean the end of the trust relationship,” Standing Bear said. “And that would be resisted by the Osage Nation and every tribe in the country. We believe it would lead to great conflict, and we’ve had enough conflict.”

So far, the senators are keeping their fingers off the trigger.

“They assured me that there is no such legislation that is going to be proposed right now,” Standing Bear said. “We didn’t make any decisions today—all we did was talk about options.”

A spokesperson for Senator Lankford confirmed that no legislation on the issue is in the works.

Both senators have been involved in the ongoing disputes over Osage County oil and gas for some time. Back in 2013, all seven of Oklahoma’s congressional legislators signed a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Interior Kevin Washburn asking that the rule making process that created new regulations for Osage County be restarted.

Senators Inhofe and Lankford sent a letter on July 9 to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell expressing further concerns.

After briefly discussing the history oil production in Osage County, the Senators launch into their critique of the BIA.

“The main threat to this ongoing success story is the federal government, which is charged with protecting the tribe and advancing its economic interests,” the senators wrote. “The Bureau’s efforts to update the mineral estate’s regulations, which have not yet been implemented, have already had a chilling effect on production … The Bureau’s actions have had a very clear and negative impact on Osage Nation tribal members, over whom you have a fiduciary responsibility.”

While Osage Nation and national officials have been untangling the web of rumors and conflicting interests, the Corporation Commission itself has been left out of the argument.

“The Commission does not engage in discussion and has not engaged in any discussion regarding Commission jurisdiction extending to Osage County,” according to Matt Skinner, a Corporation Commission spokesman. “We are not involved in this debate in any shape, manner or form … It is all happening outside this agency.”