When an ordinance lifting a century-old ban on oil and gas drilling in Tulsa was adopted a little more than a year ago by the City Council, some city officials were excited about the revenue it might raise for municipal government, which was in the midst of severe budget cutbacks that resulted in layoffs, furloughs and service reductions.
Since then, the budget crisis has eased, and many of those cutbacks have been reduced or eliminated.
But none of that is thanks to the oil-drilling ordinance. The city is still waiting for the first operating company to come forward and sign a lease to drill on city-owned land.
That was unexpected news to City Councilor John Eagleton, who became one of the biggest supporters of the measure after a number of oil company executives expressed enthusiasm for the idea to him.
"I am surprised. That's not what I was told would happen," Eagleton said, though he added that the decision about whether it would be worthwhile to drill within city limits is a function of the private sector and not something the government can control.
Eagleton said during the last update he received on the issue from Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr., Bartlett indicated he was negotiating with several interested parties about the possibility of drilling in Tulsa.
Those talks apparently went nowhere. Kim MacLeod of the city's Communications Department said the city has received no requests to drill on city-owned land.
MacLeod said he is planning to hire an inspector for any wells that might be drilled in the city, but that position has not been filled yet.
District 2 City Councilor Rick Westcott, another supporter of the ordinance, has said idea of lifting of the moratorium originated three years ago with a citizens committee that was developing ideas about how to fix city streets. Bartlett chaired that committee before he became mayor and he serves as president of Tulsa's Keener Oil & Gas Company.
While the mayor expressed enthusiasm for the lifting of the moratorium last year, Terry Simonson, Bartlett's chief of staff, said the removal of the ban was not something the administration believed would generate a windfall for Tulsa, particularly since the city did little to sell the idea.
"You've got to look at promoting this for anyone interested in oil and gas drilling in the city," he said. "It seemed like a great idea at the time, but it was one of those things that didn't sustain the momentum it needed to have."
Nevertheless, Tulsa officials were hopeful some revenue might be generated from leases and royalties produced by successful drilling enterprises. They pointed to the example set by Oklahoma City, which has enjoyed a substantial revenue stream over the years from drilling activity in that city. Edmond, Stillwater and Shawnee also allow drilling within their city limits.
While no one knows what kind of untapped reserves remain in Tulsa, many observers believed city-controlled properties like Turkey Mountain and Mohawk Park would draw interest from the oil and gas industry.
Despite the lack of response over the lifting the drilling ban, Eagleton said he wasn't ready to give up on the idea, though he couldn't help but joke about whether city officials overestimated how much interest there would be.
"Maybe it's a dry hole," he said, laughing.
Simonson wasn't ready to abandon the idea, either.
"If it has any promise to it, then you need to work it," he said. "It's not enough to just have an idea, then turn it into an ordinance and stand back and expect people to realize there's an opportunity. You've got to do the hard work, promote it and look for opportunities. That's probably the next step here, to look for opportunities to promote this to someone."
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