October 16, 2013

Industry funded nonprofit cleans abandoned sites

James Bright, Managing Editor,
The Express-Star


The energy industry has changed somewhat dramatically over the last two decades. During the boom in the '80s, regulation was scarce and energy companies left behind machinery and concrete slabs in the wake of their excavating. 

Since 1993 the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board has been working diligently to make amends for the environmental damage done during this era, and 20 years later OERB has managed to clean up 13,000 well sites across the state including 53 in Grady County. 

OERB Communications Director Jill Harrison said the group's work is one of a kind, and although she is pleased by the progress they've made, there is a lot more to do. 

"We estimate there are still between 20,000 and 30,000 well sites (in the state) to clean up, so we are not even half way there," she said. 

Cleaning up the mistakes of the past could be construed as an embarrassment for energy companies, but most embrace the OERB, which is funded strictly by donations from the same companies who created the work in the first place. 

"They are giving us the opportunity to leave it exactly as they found it before they started drilling," Harrison said. 

Energy companies have the ability to opt out of donating to the OERB as there is no legal precedent funding the organization, but Harrison said few do, and 95 percent of oil companies operating in Oklahoma donate 1/10 of a percent of their sales to OERB. 

"It is really exciting to reach this milestone," said Steve Sowers, environmental director for the OERB. "Thirteen-thousand sites around the state - that's an incredibly positive impact on Oklahoma's land. This program is one tangible way the oil and natural gas industry is demonstrating its commitment to leaving Oklahoma's land beautiful for future generations." 

The OERB doesn't stop with well site restoration though. Harrison said only 50 percent of their budget goes into clean up . The remaining revenue is used to educate future generations and provide scholarships. 

"We do a lot of public education industry campaigns," said Harrison. "We focus on the importance of energy independence and how much the industry means to Oklahoma. The OERB is the first of its kind." 

The OERB also helps with local school districts. 

Harrison said they are the first to put out curriculum that matches the new state standards in math science and social studies. 

"Our work lets students look at well site diagrams and helps them make connections to what some of their family members who work in the industry may be doing," she said.

Many times, Harrison said the OERB is notified about abandoned sites after land is purchased and the new owners discover equipment somewhere on their property. 

"People may purchase their dream home with land and find a giant tank battery or concrete in the middle of their property," she said. "This destroys a lot of the natural vegetation and overtime can cause long-term environmental issues. We restore the vegetation and on larger sites' we've even added a pond."  

Those who know of an abandoned oil field site can contact the OERB at