Should tribes regulate oil and gas activities inside Indian country?
The Oklahoma Supreme Court will intervene.
The court issued an order this week stating that it would review an earlier decision made by the majority of the elected commissioners of the Oklahoma Corporation of Oklahoma, finding that state regulators retain the power to oversee the activities of the power industry in parts of Oklahoma within the historic limits of the state’s five civilized tribes.
An attorney representing a private oil and gas operator active in the region challenged the agency on the matter earlier this year after the landmark McGirt ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, saying the commission should turn that authority over to the tribes.
The McGirt case asked whether it was appropriate to prosecute and convict a tribal member accused of a major felony in state court when the act he was accused of committing had occurred. produced on land within the Muscogee Creek Nation Historic Reserve.
The court, in a 5 to 4 decision, ruled that Congress never formally dissolved the reservation, which raised questions as to whether the same was true for the reservations covering the eastern half of the State previously owned by the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw. and the Seminole nations.
State judges have ruled in other cases since the Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, and Chickasaw reservations were also never removed.
While the United States Supreme Court made it clear in its McGirt decision that the ruling only applied to criminal matters generally prosecuted in federal court under the Major Crimes Act, tribal officials and officials state officials questioned whether this might have broader implications, such as giving tribes the power to regulate environmental, regulatory, and fiscal policies on their former lands.
Canaan Resources X, represented by attorney AJ Ferate, raised the issue of oil and gas regulation in 10 cases filed with the panel by Calyx Energy III.
Calyx was seeking approval for ongoing actions that would give the authority to drill horizontal wells to multiple units and provide the company with exceptions to well location, increased well density, pooling and an exception to the spacing requirements in Hughes County, which was originally part of the Muscogee (Stream) reservation.
Ferate used language published in two previous Supreme Court cases, Montana v. United States (1981) and Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie (1998), among others, to help advocate.
Attorney Ron Barnes, representing Calyx, argued that the net effect of the rulings in all of the cases cited by Ferate beyond McGirt was simply that the tribes have the legal authority to regulate business activities on the properties they they own either Indian land held in trust or otherwise restricted.
Apart from that, he argued that the Stigler Act passed by Congress in 1947 gave the Corporation Commission the power to regulate oil and gas activities on former reserve lands.
The commissioners, by order, concurred with Barnes’ arguments, stating that Congress had given Oklahoma the power to regulate oil and gas activities on “all the restricted lands of the five civilized tribes” within the state. and that the Oklahoma legislature had previously granted the agency the power to oversee oil. and gas activities throughout the state, if applicable.
“On the court’s own initiative, this case is taken for decision by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma,” reads the sentence order from the state’s highest court.
Business writer Jack Money covers Oklahoma Energy and Agriculture for the newspaper and Oklahoma.com. Contact him at [email protected] Please support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a subscription today at oklahoman.com/subscribe.