Osage County family wins oil drilling suit against BIA

New rules threaten Osage oil and gas production, Oklahoma senators, congressman say


A Federal Judge has ruled against the Bureau of Indian Affairs in an Osage County family’s lawsuit filed nearly 10 years ago over the drilling of oil wells on their land.

U.S. District Judge Jane A Restani ruled in support of the Paul B. Hayes Family Trust which challenged the BIA’s handling of the drilling of wells on its 475 acres in the county. Since the mineral rights of Osage County are held in the hands of the Osage Nation, the tribe entered into an oil and gas mining lease with Chaparral Energy, LLC for the rights beneath the Hayes estate in 2012.

Shortly thereafter, the Superintendent of the Osage Agency approved Lease 22411 without conducting a NEPA analysis. And that led to the lawsuit that challenged the BIA’s efforts to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 while approving the oil and gas leases in the county. A Judge with the U.S. Court of International Trade originally ruled in support of the BIA and at the same time invalidated a lease and associated drilling permits on the Hayes property. The judge remanded the issue to the BIA.

The Hayes estate challenged the NEPA analysis, arguing it was flawed. This week, the federal Judge ruled the BIA “failed to comply with NEPA.”

“In the case where the BIA seeks to retroactively approve a lease and knows of prior actions that do not comply with the terms and conditions that ensure NEPA compliance, the BIA has an obligation under NEPA to include additional terms to remedy that default. Not to do so is arbitrary and capricious,” she wrote.

The judge added, “The BIA skipped the important procedural step of conducting site-specific analysis at the leasing level. Further explanation will likely not justify the agency’s decision to forgo its obligation to examine “all reasonably foreseeable impacts . . . at the earliest practicable point.”