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Gov. Mary Fallin, Oklahoma lawmakers react to tax proposal from Devon, Chesapeake, Continental

A new state gross production tax proposal pitched by Oklahoma City’s big three oil companies has the tentative support of the governor, but whether it will ultimately be approved by the Legislature remains in doubt.
by Randy Ellis Modified: May 5, 2014 at 10:00 am •  Published: May 4, 2014

A new state gross production tax proposal pitched by Oklahoma City’s big three oil companies has the tentative support of the governor and Senate leadership, but is being criticized by a prominent Tulsa oilman and banker as being overly generous to the oil and gas industry at the expense of state services.

Whether it ultimately will be approved by the Legislature remains in doubt.

Leaders of Devon Energy, Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Continental Resources Inc. told The Oklahoman they have submitted a unified proposal to state negotiators.

That proposal calls for permanently setting Oklahoma’s gross production tax rate at 2 percent for the first 48 months on all new wells, regardless of whether they are horizontal or vertical, followed by a 7 percent tax rate for the remainder of each well’s production.

“The governor is inclined to support the concept and thanks the industry and Legislature for collaborating in the review process we recommended last summer,” said Preston L. Doerflinger, the governor’s secretary of finance.

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said he also likes the proposal.

“I think it’s a very fair and reasonable proposal,” Bingman said, adding that he has presented the proposal to Senate Republican caucus members and believes it was “received very favorably.”

House Speaker Jeff Hickman was more noncommittal.

“The plan the oil and gas industry has come forward with is one among several that have been discussed this session,” said Hickman, R-Fairview, who has been directly involved in negotiations in behalf of the House. “The energy industry is a crucial part of Oklahoma’s economy and job market, and ultimately, the Legislature has to make a decision about the incentives that are set to expire next year.”

Even if the industry’s basic proposal is accepted, there are still details to be worked out, officials said. Among those details are whether the 2 percent tax rate would jump back to 7 percent earlier than 48 months if a well has earned enough money to pay for itself, and how revenues from the 2 percent tax would be distributed between counties, schools and the state.

Currently, Oklahoma’s basic gross production tax rate on oil and natural gas stands at 7 percent, but for several years a tax incentive has been in effect that lowers the tax rate to 1 percent for the first 48 months of production from a new horizontal well, rising to 7 percent for the remainder of the well’s producing life. Under the law, the 1 percent tax goes entirely to counties and school programs and the state receives no money from new horizontal oil and gas wells for 48 months. Vertical wells pay the 7 percent tax rate from the beginning.

The law’s effects

Larry Nichols, executive chairman of Devon, predicted the proposed change would be either revenue neutral to the state and oil and gas industry or would more likely result in a modest tax increase on the industry. Companies that concentrate on vertical drilling would see a tax decrease, while companies like the big three that almost solely in horizontal drilling would see a tax increase, he said.

About 87 percent of wells now being drilled in Oklahoma are horizontal wells, said Harold Hamm, chairman and CEO of Continental Resources.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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