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Plans to drill in Mustang halted

By Traci Chapman
Staff Writer

City of Mustang on Monday won its first round in a contentious issue surrounding two wells slated near the area of SW 59th and Frisco Road.

Curtis Johnson with Citizen Energy addresses Mustang City Council during an October public hearing concerning two well permits sought by the Tulsa-based company.

Canadian County District Court Judge Paul Hesse issued a temporary restraining order and injunction against Tulsa-based Citizen Energy during the Monday afternoon hearing forcing the company to halt any plans to begin drilling at the Mustang site. City Attorney Jonathan Miller on Nov. 20 filed requests for the TRO and injunction.

The case is next set for hearing on Dec. 20.

The issue came to light first in August, when Citizen filed two applications for conditional use permits, which would allow them to drill two wells in the western part of the city. Those applications were completely finalized and presented during one planning commission and two city council meetings – all attended by a host of nearby residents and other individuals who urged the council to deny Citizen’s requests.

Council, however, was hamstringed in its efforts to do so, because of Senate Bill 809, signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin in 2015. That bill modified Title 52, confirming Oklahoma Corporation Commission as the state’s primary – and, in essence, only – oil and gas regulator, and taking away cities’ ability to stop companies from drilling or fracking, even within their own limits.

“State law dictates city councils cannot deny them (oil and gas companies) the ability to drill,” Mayor Jay Adams told residents who opposed Citizen’s application after council’s Nov. 7 vote approving the applications. “Believe me, we’re not any happier about this than you are.”

While officials could not deny Citizen’s requests, council could – and did – elect to put in place stipulations to ensure the site confirmed to Mustang ordinances. As part of its approval, council members stipulated Citizen must erect a sound barrier at least 16-feet tall that would reduce sound transmissions from the site by a rating of 25; trucks going to and from the site would only use state Highway 152 and one-half mile of Frisco Road; and Citizen must restore the condition of Frisco Road back to its current state after drilling completion.

Those requirements were what prompted the city’s lawsuit and injunction requests, Miller stated in his court filing – stipulations the city attorney said Citizen never disputed.

“By letter dated Nov. 8, Defendant (Citizen) advised the mayor of the city of Mustang that Defendant intended to enter the well site and commence drilling operations as soon as a drilling rig becomes available and without complying with the terms of the conditional use permits or the drilling permits,” Miller stated in court documents. “Defendant has not appealed or otherwise sought review of the city’s issuance of the conditional use permits or the permits to drill to alter or change those conditions.”

For its part, Citizen maintained in its response to Miller’s initial filings that city ordinance requirements “are arbitrary, capricious and unlawful” under both state statutes and its own municipal codes. It was only in the legal response filed in the case initiated by the city Citizen appealed the conditional use permit stipulations imposed by council.

While the case is far from over – the city’s injunction and restraining order were temporary – the issue comes as Mustang officials get set to work on ways to further hamper fairly unrestricted oil well drilling. After its action on the Citizen application, council at its next meeting – on Nov. 21 – unanimously voted to place a 90-day moratorium on “applications for and issuance of any permits for drilling and operation of oil and gas wells.”

The action was taken, said Adams, City Manager Tim Rooney and Vice Mayor Jess Schweinberg, to give officials time to beef up city regulations that would protect both Mustang’s residents and environment.

The case also comes after Citizen on Nov. 28 was forced to cut pressure and volume at a Yukon oil well site, after seismic activity was determined to be the result of the company’s drilling.

Those tremors topped out at a 2.9 magnitude; the commission’s Oil and Gas Conservation Division is empowered to take measures to reduce earthquake risks triggered by saltwater disposal wells – or fracking – when seismic activity hits a 2.5-magnitude, Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesman Matt Skinner said.

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