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Oklahoma City sues oil company for stealing water intended for emergency drought relief

A green-tinted river surrounded by bare trees.
Graycen Wheeler
/
KOSU
The North Canadian River flows through Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge.

Oklahoma City and the OKC Water Utilities Trust have filed a lawsuit against an oil company for stealing the city’s water and harming protected lands at the Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge.

The company, Revolution Resources, operates a well site at the Wiley Post Airport in Bethany, where they started drilling in the spring of 2022. They applied for permits to run temporary waterlines from the North Canadian River to the drilling site, but both Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board rejected them.

Now, the water utilities trust is suing because they say Revolution built those lines anyway. According to the lawsuit, the company installed three and a half miles of foot-wide pipe along a trail in Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge.

To do that, Revolution is accused of using bolt cutters to sneak onto the refuge, leaving behind construction waste and other trash, altering the landscape around the river, cutting down trees and even drilling wells on protected land. The suit says Revolution also may have discharged waste into the Hefner Canal.

Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge is a swath of OKC-owned land between Bethany and Yukon. It offers a scenic area for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking and bird watching. The city also uses the refuge as a natural water clarification system. When Lake Overholser is full, water from the North Canadian River backfills into the area’s swamps and marshes, where sediment has time to settle out of the water.

A brown sign with white lettering that says "STINCHCOMB WILDLIFE REFUGE." Behind the sign, a line of trees and blue sky. The trees are bare and the grass is yellow.
Graycen Wheeler
/
KOSU
Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge is a swath of OKC-owned land between Bethany and Yukon. It offers a scenic area for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking and bird watching.

On the south side of the refuge, the Hefner Canal branches away from the North Canadian River, carrying water from the river to Lake Hefner, where the city can store it, treat it and send it to homes and businesses.

Oklahoma City used the North Canadian and the Hefner Canal to supply drought-stricken Lake Hefner with water from Canton Lake twice this summer. The city alleges that Revolution stole some of this water intended for emergency drought relief.

The lawsuit requests that Revolution compensate the city for the alleged theft and pay punitive damages.

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Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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