Oklahoma Energy Resources Board Director Sees Well Site Cleanups Help Industry's Image
Shottenkirk, Jerry, THE JOURNAL RECORD
The oil and natural gas industry knows it hasn't always been held in high regard by the public.
Mindy Stitt and the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board are in their 14th year of trying to change that. The OERB has tried to enhance the image of energy in the state, and through advertising and media campaigns and an aggressive abandoned well site cleanup program, the industry is being seen in a better light, according to Stitt and many others in the industry.
Stitt joined the OERB as an assistant director in 1994 and was named executive director in May 2006. Through all those years, the OERB's objective was, and still is today, to help the public look favorably at the industry. "The oil and natural gas industry here in Oklahoma wanted the public to understand what we are doing for the state and what we are doing as far as environmental concerns," Stitt said. "We wanted them to know we are trying to make a difference here. So, if you don't tell anybody you're doing it, it's as if you aren't doing it."
It was a tough gig at the beginning. It had been just more than a decade since the oil bust, bank failures and everything else negative about the business.
"So many people lost jobs, they thought of the oil and gas industry as a dying industry, a dinosaur industry that was going to go away," she said. "They also thought of the industry as greedy."
Leaders in the industry found a way to help soften those thoughts.
"The biggest thing was that the oil and natural gas industry wasn't a good environmental steward," she said. "Those are things we are trying to go back and correct and show Oklahomans we are cleaning up these problems. We want to show them we are not a dying industry. We are trying to show them this is a high-tech industry that's going to be around a long time. We want to show there are a lot of great job opportunities out there and that we are responsible citizens."
The OERB this week will reach a couple of milestones. For one, it will celebrate its 8,000th well site cleanup. The OERB and the Department of Transportation are working together to clean up an area near the junction of Interstates 40 and 235. Secondly, the project will take environmental restorations over the $40 million mark. The well-site cleanup projects didn't exactly get off to a flying start.
The OERB hired staff in February 1994.
"It took about a year to get it up and going," Stitt said. "After staff was hired, we cleaned up a couple of sites. But not being familiar with how state agencies work, it took us some time to develop all of our policies and procedures and get our bidding documents and things like that. …