OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma Energy Resources Board is celebrating 25 years of its unique commitment. OERB has restored the land at more than 17,000 abandoned oil and natural gas well sites, but that is just a fraction of the work still left to do. 

No one knows exactly how many wells sprang up at the start of statehood, but it is estimated there are upwards of 500,000.

“Of course, many of the people who made those holes and made those wells, they don’t exist,” pointed out Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesman Matt Skinner. “The companies don’t exist. There is no one responsible for those sites.”

That is why today's oil and gas producers and royalty owners are voluntarily restoring the eyesores, one by one.

“They’ve lived with this for many, many years,” OERB chairman Mike McDonald remarked regarding the landowners, “and all of a sudden, what was a concrete mess is now a lot of times a nice pond they can go fishing in.”

OERB now completes two projects a day on average, based on requests from the public. There are so many, though, that the wait time is currently one to two years for work to get started.

On Tuesday, Mayor David Holt joined board members on a tour of their latest project on city land at Southeast 149th Street and S. Air Depot Boulevard. The environmental impact there is evident, and that is why the OCC so values the partnership they have fostered with the industry they govern.

“We would fix whatever was wrong underground,” Skinner said, “but everything above ground, we had no funding and no jurisdiction over that.”

To date, though, OERB has spent more than $120 million in land restoration efforts, and Oklahoma remains the only state to have a voluntary program like this.

McDonald said, “I think it puts a positive impact on our industry, and you can’t imagine the benefit the landowners get.”

If you know of an abandoned site that you would like cleaned up, click here to report it.