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Federal government proposes new regulations to strengthen the Osage Mineral Estate


The Bureau of Indian Affairs is proposing new rules to protect a massive collection of oil and gas rights belonging to the Osage Nation after decades of criticism that the U.S. has mismanaged their estate.

The Osage Minerals Council is the governing body within the nation that manages all the oil and gas leases.

In 1877, the tribe purchased the land from the Cherokee Nation and decided to permanently settle in Northeast Oklahoma after a brutal removal campaign from their homeland in Kansas, Missouri and parts of Oklahoma. Owning what's underground — the oil and gas — has benefitted generations of Osages.

Shortly before taking office, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland faced sharp questioning from Oklahoma Senator James Lankford over statements she made opposing drilling on public lands. He name checked the BIA over the lengthy process of approving new oil leases.

The last time the BIA updated the protections of the Osage Nation's Mineral Estate was in 1974.

According toa statement released on Thursday, the federal agency will weigh increasing the amount of money oil and gas producers put up in the form of bonds, which they say would better protect the Osage Nation when companies default. It will also consider detailed requirements for how oil and gas produced from the mineral estate is measured.

Assistant Secretary of the Interior Bryan Newland said the federal government has a fiduciary and trust responsibility to the Osage Nation, and the department will be consulting with the tribal nation about these and other proposed revisions in the near future.

"These proposed revisions secure this special trust asset of the Osage Nation for generations to come through accountability and best industry practices," Newland said in a statement. "We look forward to consulting with the Osage Nation and Osage Minerals Council on how we can best fulfill that obligation through this regulation."

The mineral estate consists of 1.5 million acres of reserves that make up the Osage Mineral Estate. In 1906, it was divided into 2,229 shares, which later became known as headrights,with each Osage citizen on a roll receiving a share.

This proposal comes after thepodcast In Trust raised fresh questions over the federal government's management of the estate. In addition, a new piece of legislation is under review that would allow non-Osage citizens who own a headright to transfer their share back to Osage citizens-something that is currently not allowed.

As part of the reporting process on the In Trust podcast, Bloomberg received a list of those non-Osage headright holders and their current share amount after suing the BIA.

In addition to in person consultation, the BIA will accept written testimony about the potential rule changes until March 17.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs desk.
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