EPA Considers Shutting Down Oil Sites Months After Leak and Dead Wildlife Found in Osage County

  • Joe Wertz

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may ask three oil and gas companies to shut down disposal wells as investigators look for the source of a saltwater leak that has plagued the area for nine months.

Local ranchers and inspectors toured the Bird Creek contamination site on the Chapman Ranch last week, the Tulsa World‘s Kelly Bostian reports:

The EPA will ask producers for daily production reports and may temporarily shut down operations, Coleman said. The EPA is planning dye tests and also is bringing in remote samplers to closely monitor the stream, he said.

It is now approaching nine months since an oily sheen and dead fish and turtles were reported in the small northern arm of Bird Creek in August 2016. The exact source of apparent oil field injection well water in the creek remains a mystery, is unusual and is of high interest to the agency, Coleman said in a phone interview, in which he reviewed actions taken thus far and announced plans for the future.

Mineral rights in Osage County belong to the Osage Nation, so state officials do not regulate oil and gas activity there. The EPA and Bureau of Indian Affairs have primary responsibility to investigate the leak, which is about 5 miles west of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Bostian reports:

Chapman Ranch manager R.D. Farr said he was pleased with the meeting.

“Sam Coleman was like a breath of fresh air,” he said. “He’d look you in the face, and he wanted to know what we thought. I think he did his homework, too. The other guy, Wagner, seemed pretty good, too.”

Farr said the regional administrator seemed sensitive to ranchers’ concerns about lasting impact to grazing land and seemed to appreciate the importance of the site being a part of the small remaining portion of native prairie lands that remain in the Osage and Flint Hills region. The leak is about 5 miles west of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve headquarters but is not on the preserve itself.

The contamination source apparently seeps up in the base of the creek, which is in the middle of a Chapman Ranch pasture not far from a bridge over a road and two ranch homes.

Although the creek was at flood stage and flowing over the bridge early in the week and still had a steady flow Thursday, monitors dropped into the creek showed elevated salinity near the ranch house and about a half-mile downstream, Farr said.