Oil and Gas Industry Restores 7,000th Site

OERB VISIT: Mindy Stitt, assistant director of OERB, was the guest speaker during a recent Trust Company of Oklahoma luncheon meeting. From left are Thomas W. Wilkins, chairman, president and CEO of the Trust Company of Oklahoma; Stitt; Wayne E. Swearingen, a petroleum industry spokesman and leader; and Dr. Norman J. Hyne of the University of Tulsa and a certified petroleum geologist.

GTR Newspapers photo

Oklahoma’s oil and natural gas producers and royalty owners continue to prove their dedication to restoring orphaned and abandoned well sites across the state as they celebrated a milestone event in their clean up efforts.

Through a voluntary assessment on the sale of oil and natural gas, the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board is commemorating the clean up of 7,000 sites since the program’s inception 13 years ago.

“In 1993, Oklahoma’s oil and natural gas producers and royalty owners made a commitment to our state and its environment,” said OERB Chairman Steve Agee. “The idea was simple and innovative as oil and natural gas producers and royalty owners imposed a voluntary assessment on themselves to clean up abandoned oilfield sites.”

The 7,000th site, located near Oologah Lake, is one of many projects that have been performed under the first partnership of its kind in the United States. Through this partnership, the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board, Oklahoma Corporation Commission and Environmental Protection Agency are working together to restore more than 1,000 abandoned well sites at Oologah Lake, located in Rogers and Nowata counties. Oologah Lake serves as the water supply for the City of Tulsa.

“What we want to do is make a very visible and upfront commitment that we are doing the right thing by taking responsibility and cleaning up past mistakes made before modern regulations were in place,” Agee said. “The 7,000th site serves as a great example of what we can do when given the opportunity.”

OERB’s role in the Oologah Lake partnership is to restore the surface issues at abandoned well sites, while OCC and EPA plug the wells. The sites date back to the early 1900s, when modern environmental regulations were nonexistent. To date, the OERB has restored 226 sites near Oologah Lake at a cost of $300,000; OCC has plugged 300 wells at a cost of $500,000; and EPA has plugged more than 1,000 wells at a cost of $8.5 million.

Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor said the City of Tulsa greatly appreciates the partnership behind OERB’s 7,000th site restoration. “For our citizens, this program, and in particular, this 7,000th well site restoration near Oologah Lake, will help assure land productivity and drinking water quality for over a half a million residents of the Tulsa region for years to come.”
Roland Belveal, retired District 1 manager for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, spearheaded the Oologah Lake project, which began in 1998. At the time, OCC could only plug about 50 wells a year due to funding, he said.

Belveal contacted the EPA and secured federal funding through the U.S. Coast Guard. However, OCC and Coast Guard funding, which is administered by EPA, focused mostly on plugging wells. “That opened the door for OERB to come in and clean up surface damages, leaving the land exactly as it was 100 years ago,” he said. “It took a lot of people thinking outside the box and doing things that had never been done before. And now pollution from oil and gas at Lake Oologah is history.”

EPA project manager Chris Ruhl said OERB has been a tremendous help with the success of the Oologah Lake project. “OERB has been a great partner for the EPA and OCC. They have allowed us to leave the landowners in a happier place.”
Janet McDaniel, who owns the land where OERB is celebrating its 7,000th site, said she’s thrilled to have her property restored.
“It’s a great thing,” McDaniel said. “I have more acreage now, so I’ll hopefully be able to support more cattle and more goats. My goal is to eventually live off the land.”

OERB spent $12,000 restoring five sites on McDaniel’s land. Restoration activities included burying concrete; removing flowlines, debris and tanks; dispersing hydrocarbons; and closing pits.

Belveal said that before retiring in 2002, he wanted to make sure Oologah Lake was in good hands. “Before OERB came into the picture, the very best we could do for landowners was to plug their abandoned well site. But when OERB came along, they were able to clean up trash and debris and give landowners hope that their land would be made whole again. I always felt that OERB was the best thing that ever happened to that area.”
The OERB is encouraging the public to submit abandoned well sites by calling (800) 664-1301, or logging on to OERB.com.

Created by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1993, the OERB is funded voluntarily by oil and natural gas producers and royalty owners through a one-tenth of 1 percent assessment on the sale of oil and natural gas. The OERB’s purpose is to conduct environmental restoration of orphaned and abandoned well sites and to educate Oklahomans about energy.

Updated 09-18-2006

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