January Legislative Affairs

The end of the 115th Congress saw the passage and enactment of two bills at the federal level that will affect oil and gas operations on Indian lands.

House Resolution 2606, known as the Stigler Act Amendments of 2018, passed the U.S. House and Senate and was signed into law by President Trump on December 31, 2018. This bill amends the Act of August 4, 1947, commonly known as the Stigler Act, and eliminates the Indian blood quantum requirement for restricted status for Indians of the Five Civilized Tribes. Under the Stigler Act, an Indian heir who was a member of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Cherokee, and Seminole tribes was required to possess 1/2 or more Indian blood from one of the Five Tribes in order for their interest in the land to remain restricted. Under the new law, any heirs who are members of the Five Tribes will inherit land in restricted status, regardless of their quantum of Indian blood. The law does not retroactively bring interests of less-than-half-blood Indians that have already been distributed or conveyed back into restriction, but, going forward, it will dramatically reduce the flow of lands leaving restricted status. It is now clear that Fitzpatrick’s Indian Title Chart – Extended has become partially obsolete and will need to be updated to reflect the new law.

Senate bill 245, known as the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2017, also passed the U.S. House and Senate and was signed into law by President Trump on December 18, 2018. This law is intended to allow Indian tribes to exercise greater self-determination over the development of energy resources on their lands by rectifying tribal concerns with the Tribal Energy Resource Agreement (TERA) program that caused no tribes to ultimately participate in the program. A TERA “provides a tribe with the option of entering into energy-related business agreements and leases and for granting rights-of-way for pipelines, electric transmission, and distribution lines without the review and approval of the Secretary of the Interior for each proposed project.” A TERA “allows leases and business agreements that pool, unitize, or communitize a tribe’s energy resources with other energy resources.” It may take some time for the impact of Senate bill 245 to be realized, as tribes evaluate whether the changes are sufficient to persuade them to draft and submit TERAs and then wait for their TERAs to be approved by the DOI. However, in some years’ time it may be the case that some or many tribes self-administer their mineral resources under TERAs with reduced involvement by the DOI.

If you know of legislative or regulatory activity that you would like the Legislative Affairs Committee to analyze and discuss, please let us know by contacting Aaron Meek at meek@hampton-milligan.com or (405) 235-5620.