A federal court ruled in early January that Italy-based renewable energy company Enel must completely remove a wind energy turbine installation in northern Oklahoma after failing to receive proper rights from a Native American tribe.
The ruling orders Enel Green Power North America to deconstruct 84 wind turbines at its Osage County wind farm after it failed to obtain mineral rights to the 1,000-plus acres where they are located. The firm properly leased the surface rights more than a decade ago but it did not lease the land below the surface, which includes oil, natural gas and minerals the tribe said. To build the wind farm, each turbine required an underground base of 10 ft deep and 50 ft wide. The installed wind turbines have a combined generating capacity of 150 MW.
Judge Jennifer Choe-Groves of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma wrote, "There is no genuine dispute of material fact that the continuation of the wind towers involved entering the mineral estate and using the extracted minerals without first obtaining the necessary lease.”
The tribe wants tcomplete removal of the wind farm, power lines and related infrastructure, which could cost the energy company upwards of $300 million, according to The Tulsa World.
Neither the Osage Nation nor Enel replied to inquiries from ENR by story posting time. However, the tribe’s mineral council has said it expects Enel to follow the judge's order for a complete removal. Enel has not said what or when its next step will be, according to Osage News.
The relationship between the Osage Nation and Enel was rocky from the start more than a decade ago. A large group of Osage tribe members opposed leasing land to the energy company, saying the turbines would be close to sacred burial grounds and would harm eagles.
Enel received construction rights in 2013, excavation began in 2014 and the project was commissioned in 2015. In 2014, the project ran afoul with the tribe and federal authorities over mineral rights. A year later, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs contended that Enel illegally mined rocks owned by the tribe, according to The Tulsa World. However, the company continued to mine rocks after the agency ordered it to stop. Instead of stopping construction, Enel sped up work, and mined and crushed rocks for construction, the paper reported.
Attorney Gregory Meier, who has represented Native American tribes for half a century, said the Osage Allotment Act of 1906 states the tribe owns the subsurface rights to the mineral areas.
Meire, who did not represent either party in the case, says he did not understand why Enel failed to obtain the mineral rights. In Oklahoma, there are about 30 Native tribes that have self-governing authority, he says, which is confusing.
The Osage have not shown signs of backing away from its demands, and with the court’s favorable ruling, the tribe plans to seek damages in a later trial, and will seek compensation for damages to the land, lawyers’ fees and all profits and tax incentives from the state, according to various sources.