A federal judge has ruled that St. Louis-based Wind Capital Group LLC’s proposed wind farm in northern Oklahoma can go forward over objections that it would interfere with the Osage Nation’s ability to produce oil and gas from the same lands.
The ruling issued Thursday afternoon by U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell in Tulsa, Okla., comes just a day after the opening of a trial in the case.
On one level, the dispute pitted green power vs. fossil fuels. More specifically, it matched Wind Capital’s ability to erect turbines on northern Oklahoma’s tall grass prairie against the 15,600-member tribe, which owns rights to the petroleum deposits below.
The Osage Nation sued Wind Capital on Oct. 18 to block the installation of 94 turbines across 15 square miles in Osage County, just northwest of Pawhuska, Okla. Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. of Springfield, Mo., which provides power to regional and local electric cooperative systems in Missouri, Iowa and Oklahoma, had agreed to buy electricity from the project.
Wind Capital, the alternative energy company founded by Tom Carnahan, issued a statement saying it was pleased with the judge’s decision. The company vowed to work with the tribe and said its project would provide clean energy and jobs to the area.
“As we have said since the issue first arose, the development of energy sources above and beneath the surface lands of Osage County can co-exist,” Wind Capital said.
Oklahoma is among the states where surface ownership of land can be separated from rights to underground oil, gas and minerals deposits.
Wind Capital leased 8,500 private acres for its project. The Osage Nation has controlled mineral rights to the 1.5 million acres in Osage County since 1906. Last year, oil and gas companies that lease mineral rights from the Osage Nation produced $360 million worth of petroleum, the tribe said.
Millions of dollars in royalties are distributed to some 4,000-plus tribal members, who own shares in the mineral estate that have been passed down for more than a century. The payments also help finance roads and schools in the county, according to the lawsuit.
Wind Capital asked the judge to hear the case quickly because the lawsuit jeopardized financing and the ability to complete construction in time to qualify for federal tax credits.
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