Petroleum Alliance president says industry won’t have chaos because of Supreme Court case
A narrow Supreme Court decision in a criminal case that determined Congress never dissolved the Creek reservation inside Oklahoma won’t throw the state’s energy industry into chaos.
Brook Simmons, president of the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma, brought that message to operators, analysts and other interested parties at this month’s DUG Midcontinent conference.
While Simmons, who took the alliance’s top job earlier this year, admitted he isn’t an Indian law attorney, he said decades of practice define the
relationship he expects will continue between the state’s Five Civilized Tribes and the oil and gas industry.
Simmons said the alliance is working with state and tribal leaders to resolve any potential issues, noting everyone’s understanding about those issues are increasing daily.
He said both administrative agreements Oklahoma made with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and an act Congress adopted in 1947 give Oklahoma primacy in Indian Country over EPA regulations and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission the authority to regulate oil and gas operations on all Indian lands in Oklahoma (except for those held in trust in Osage County for the Osage Nation).
“And, it does not affect title to real property, including mineral ownership,” he said.
Simmons told conference participants Oklahoma is different from most other Western states, given it worked for a century in an environment where its 39 resident tribes didn’t have recognized reservations.
He noted he grew up in southern Oklahoma in an area of the state that, before statehood, was held by the Chickasaw Nation.
“I grew up playing dodgeball with Indian kids,” Simmons said. “I can assure you, we are well assimilated. All of us have been laboring under the assumption that the reservations were gone, since statehood. Now, we find out that Congress didn’t utter the magical words, and the reservations in fact are intact? That is precedent setting. But it doesn’t mean the industry is headed toward chaos.”
He attributed that to the recognition Oklahomans have about how a vibrant energy industry is important to the state’s overall success.
Data analyzed last year showed the state’s oil and gas industry generated about a third of the state’s gross domestic product in 2018, responsible for one out of every three earned dollars in income and one out of every five jobs in the state.
The energy industry also was the state’s biggest taxpayer, responsible for $1 out of every $4 collected and spent by governmental agencies.
“With only 11 rigs running, you can imagine we are experiencing a bust of historic proportions. An estimated 16,000 oil and gas workers in Oklahoma lost their jobs in the first half of 2020, and that impact is now rolling through the economy.”
The industry, however, remains a major economic force, he continued. The alliance, he said, has 1,300 member companies that represent upstream, midstream and downstream segments of the industry involved in producing, processing and transporting about 84% of oil production and about 75% of the natural gas within the state.
“This is really new ground for all of us,” Simmons said, “But because we have been working together for so long, we see ourselves as Oklahomans first. That can be big for Oklahoma as we work through this.”