Federal Judge Sides With Osage Nation, Orders Removal Of 84 Wind Turbines


The Osage Nation won a massive ruling in Tulsa federal court on Wednesday that requires Enel to dismantle a 150-megawatt wind project it built in Osage County despite the tribe’s repeated objections. The tribe’s fight against Rome-based Enel began in 2011 and is the longest-running legal battle over wind energy in American history.

As reported by Curtis Killman in the Tulsa World on Thursday, the ruling grants the United States, the Osage Nation, and Osage Minerals Council permanent injunctive relief via “ejectment of the wind turbine farm for continuing trespass.”

The decision by U.S. Court of International Trade Judge Jennifer Choe-Graves is the culmination of 12 years of litigation that pitted the tribe and federal authorities against Enel. During the construction of the project, the company illegally mined rock owned by the tribe, and it continued to do so even after being ordered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to stop. Instead of halting work, the company sped up construction. Enel must now remove the 84 turbines that it built on 8,400 acres of the Tallgrass Prairie located between Pawhuska and Fairfax. Removing the turbines will cost Enel some $300 million.

Under the Osage Allotment Act of 1906, the tribe owns the rights to the minerals beneath the land it bought from the Cherokee Nation in the late 1800s. Those mineral rights include oil, natural gas, and the rocks that Enel mined and crushed for the wind project. By mining without permission, the company violated the tribe’s sovereignty. Choe-Graves concluded that Enel “failed to acquire a mining lease during or after construction, as well as after issuance of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision holding that a mining lease was required” in 2017. She continued, saying the company’s “past and continued refusal to obtain a lease constitutes interference with the sovereignty of the Osage Nation and is sufficient to constitute irreparable injury.”

The court victory comes at the same time that the Osage Nation is getting massive media attention due to the October release of Martin Scorsese’s epic film, Killers Of The Flower Moon, which is still being shown in theaters. Last week, Richard Brody, the film critic at the New Yorker, declared that Killers is the best movie of 2023. The movie is also racking up accolades and nominations for numerous awards. For instance, Lily Gladstone, who stars in the film as Mollie Burkhart, has been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress.

Judge Choe-Graves’ decision is a huge win for tribal members like Tommy Daniels, who have long pushed for the removal of the wind turbines. “If I had the power, boom!, they’d be gone,” Daniels said in an interview I did with him last year in Fairfax. Daniels is one of the last full-blood Osages. The wind project “kills birds, like eagles, I don’t like that,” he added.

Daniels and other Osage tribal members opposed the project because of its potential intrusion on sacred burial sites, as well as the 420-foot-high turbines’ deadly impact on eagles. In 2021, I interviewed Joe Conner, a tribal member and publisher of The Fairfax Chief. Conner, who passed away on September 12, 2023, told me, “Many tribal members have objections because of the fear of damaging the environment, sacred birds, particularly eagles, that would be caught up in the turbine blades.”

Read the rest of this piece at Robert Bryce Substack.

Robert Bryce is a Texas-based author, journalist, film producer, and podcaster. His articles have appeared in a myriad of publications including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Time, Austin Chronicle, and Sydney Morning Herald.

Photo: These turbines are part of the Osage Wind project near Fairfax, Oklahoma. On Wednesday, a federal judge in Tulsa ruled that the 84-turbine wind project must be removed. This photo is a still image from the upcoming docuseries, Juice: Power, Politics, And The Grid. Credit: Tyson Culver.