PAWHUSKA — Earl and Dorothy Fink settled here in 1995 after he retired from Amoco in Tulsa.
At first Earl Fink didn't want any part of the Osage County property, even though he admits “I like the country up here.”
Fink recognized the signs of an old saltwater spill on the 320-acre ranch, but eventually he saw the land's potential despite damage wrought by oil and natural gas activity.
Fink has spent years cleaning up as much of the abandoned oil-field equipment as he could with “a tractor and a chain,” but he needed some help from the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board to fully restore the property.
Crews hired by OERB removed cement foundations, tank batteries and steel flow lines. They even cleaned up the spill on the north side of the Finks' property, making it possible for grass to grow there again.
“They did more than we even asked for,” he said.
It was the 12,000th cleanup OERB has completed since it was created in 1993.
The agency, which is funded voluntarily by producers and royalty owners through a one-tenth of 1 percent assessment on the sale of oil and natural gas, now has completed 12,233 cleanups in 67 counties. It has spent more than $74 million on those efforts on sites where the operator responsible for the damage cannot be found.
“The OERB started with an original list of 17 remediation projects. Sites are not just a plot of land but a part of someone's property and livelihood,” Executive Director Mindy Stitt said. “To know we have now positively affected more than 12,000 landowners by returning the land to a usable state is a point of pride for the OERB and the oil and natural gas industry.”
OERB Environmental Director Steve Sowers said the agency has increased its focus on Osage County since 2005. Mineral rights there are owned by the Osage Nation, and oil and gas activity is regulated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission approves cleanup sites in the state's other 76 counties.
Sowers said there was a considerable amount of drilling there in the early 1900s, when environmental concerns were practically nonexistent.
“Most likely, there are a significant number of abandoned sites with surface issues such as concrete, trash, debris, equipment and pits that remain,” he said.
“The OERB is hopeful of getting more abandoned exploration and production sites submitted for potential cleanup.”
OERB has cleaned up 486 sites in Osage County, according to its website.
The agency currently restores two to three sites a day; up to 800 sites each year. An estimated 30,000 abandoned well sites remain across Oklahoma.
Fink said the old oil-field equipment on his property did not affect his cattle operation, but it was unsightly.
The cleanup means there will be another six to eight acres of grass next spring in the “bad spot” left by a spill, he said. That will provide additional feedstock for his herd.
Fink said it is a “pretty place” now that it is cleaned up.
To get help from the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board in cleaning up abandoned oil-field sites, call (800) 664-1301 or go to www.oerb.