- Associated Press - Friday, December 25, 2015

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - A federal judge has invalidated an oil and gas lease in Osage County for not including a site-specific environmental assessment, a ruling an attorney says could impact other leases in the county.

The decision involves a lawsuit about the National Environmental Policy Act and whether it requires the Bureau of Indian Affairs to consider the potential environmental impact of each specific well site, the Tulsa World reported Friday (https://bit.ly/1Vg57aN ).

The BIA has generally granted drilling permits based on an environmental assessment of the county conducted in 1979. But U.S. District Chief Judge Gregory Frizzell ruled that the countywide assessment is outdates and too generic to satisfy the law.

“Unlike 1979,” the judge wrote, “today, virtually every drilling operation in Osage County involves hydraulic fracturing.”

The logic of this ruling, if applied to a pending 2014 class-action lawsuit, could impact nearly every lease signed since NEPA was enacted in 1970, said attorney Donald Lepp, who is representing the plaintiffs in both cases.

“The BIA ignored its duties under NEPA when it approved the lease and drilling permits,” Lepp said. “As virtually every lease and permit approved by the BIA in Osage County were handled similarly, the ruling will have impact beyond just this case.”

The ruling poses yet another problem for an Osage oil industry that has been in turmoil for more than a year. The BIA, partly in response to the class-action lawsuit, has made it more difficult and time-consuming to get drilling permits, and producers took the BIA to federal court to block stricter environmental standards that they say would have made oil production virtually impossible in the county.

Oil producers shouldn’t be blamed if BIA regulations aren’t in compliance with NEPA, said Jamie Sicking, an attorney for the Osage Producers Association.

“The real bad actor here again is the BIA,” he said. “The producers have to trust that the BIA is doing their job correctly.”

BIA officials could not be reached for comment.

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Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com


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