A recently passed ordinance that lifted Tulsa's century-old prohibition against oil and gas drilling has not resulted in a rush of interest from exploration companies, city officials said.
The City Council passed an ordinance on Jan. 14 that lifted a moratorium on oil and gas drilling inside city limits that had been in place since 1906. Supporters of the measure, including District 7 Councilor John Eagleton and Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr., hoped it would generate some income that would help the city through one of the worst budget crunches in its history -- a crisis that has resulted in layoffs, furloughs and reduced services in virtually every department.
But in the two and a half months since the measure was passed, Kim MacLeod of the mayor's communications staff said the Mayor's Action Center has reported only 15 or so contacts about drilling in Tulsa, and none of those expressed any meaningful interest. Several callers suggested drilling as a revenue source for Tulsa, while others inquired about drilling on their own land. One caller expressed opposition to drilling on public land.
Bob Edmiston, the assistant city attorney who helped draft the ordinance, said last week he was not aware of any inquiries from operating companies interested in drilling on city-owned land, though he said he had responded to a number of inquiries about the ordinance itself.
He also said anyone interested in drilling on city land or privately owned land in Tulsa would likely have to identify the owner of the land first, then go to the state Corporation Commission for authorization before approaching the city about a drilling permit.
Mike Bunney, the city's chief economic development officer, said the city is working on its specific policies in regard to implementing the ordinance, though that process is not complete.
"Bascially, what we're pretty close to deciding what we want to do is following Oklahoma City's policy with regard to city-owned land," he said.
Essentially, he said, that would involve waiting for the industry to express interest in obtaining drilling rights to a particular piece of land. City officials would then determine if that land was suitable for exploration. If it were, a lease would be auctioned off, Bunney said.
He estimated it would be 30 to 60 days before those policies are formally adopted.
Bunney said his office had been approached by one individual who had expressed interest in purchasing city property for purposes of oil and gas exploration, but he said the city was not interested in parting with the property.
"We do intend to go back to that individual when the new policy is in place and see if he's interested in a lease," Bunney said.
The city of Tulsa is the mineral rights holder on a good deal of property that was expected to attract the attention of exploration companies, including such areas as Mohawk Park and Turkey Mountain. Supporters hoped leases could be negotiated with those firms that would result in a revenue stream that would help ease the city's money problems.
Eagleton was particularly optimistic about the measure's potential impact, recounting several conversations he had had with oil company representatives who had expressed interest in drilling in the city.
But he acknowledged two weeks ago no surge of interest had taken place since mid-January.
"After all that hoopla, I haven't seen a single oil rig going in," he said. "I'm a little surprised, although not that much."
Eagleton said when the measure was passed, he expected it would be six to 18 months before the first drill bit was sunk in the ground in the city. And he noted recently that exploration companies are likely proceeding cautiously in regard to drilling in Tulsa.
"Maybe they're just doing their due diligence before they start something that's going to cost a quarter of a million dollars," he said. "We've all heard that a carpenter is supposed to measure twice before cutting, so maybe they're measuring three times."
Bartlett, who also serves as president of Tulsa-based Keener Oil & Gas Company, said in January that interest in local drilling would be limited, but he expected there would be some.
No one seems sure how much oil and gas remains underground in Tulsa, once hailed as the "Oil Capital of the World." Some areas of the city produced oil and gas at a high rate in the past, though Bartlett has acknowledged the prevailing sentiment among oil and gas executives that the city's reserves are now marginal or depleted. But he has said new extraction technologies now exist that make previously disregarded areas viable again.
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