Are the governments of the State of South Dakota and the Standing Rock Reservation preparing for the possible oil boom West River?
Have lessons been learned from how the people of the Affiliated Tribes on Fort Berthold Reservation suffered because of BIA assets and mineral right management decisions?
These are important questions to raise with the prospect of the oil industry moving into West River counties in pursuit of huge, shallow oil deposits that are rumored to be on the verge of development.
The people of the Fort Berthold Reservation in central North Dakota on the Missouri River system belong to the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Arikara, Hidatsa and Mandan Tribes. There are more than 14,150 enrolled members of the tribes with about 4,100 members residing on the reservation.
The reservation is located in McLean, Mountrail, Dunn, McKenzie, Mercer and Ward counties. The reservation consists of 988,000 acres, of which 457,837 acres are owned by Native Americans, either as individual allotments or communally by the tribe. The trust acreage managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is 343,000 allotted and 80,000 Tribal acres.
In the early 2000s Fort Berthold found itself in the middle of the bulls-eye of the Bakken shale formation. Nearly 1,500 wells have been drilled and hydraulically fracked, pumping over 386,000 barrels of oil a day, a third of North Dakota’s output.
According to a story in the New York Times, most of the enrolled tribal members, about half of whom live on the reservation, do not receive significant oil royalties. The tribal government does, along with hundreds of millions in oil tax revenue.
Since 2008, it was reported that the Fort Berthold tribe received more than $1 billion in oil tax revenue, yet is still struggling to provide basic services to its tribal members. According to a lawsuit filed by tribal members, the lack of information was one of the reasons they lost out on revenue. The oil companies were prepared and land agents had leases and pen in hand with offers that seemed solid to the impoverished members of the tribe. They signed leases for several hundreds of dollars that were worth much more.
A 2015 report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office showed poor management by the BIA hindered energy development and resulted in lost revenue for tribal members.
Have the tribal leaders of Standing Rock and Cheyenne River taken steps to ensure the same fate does not befall the enrolled members of their reservations?
It is not only the poor man
caused problems on Fort Berthold but also the environmental impact of lack of regulation and enforcement of regulations that has harmed the people according to multiple reports from the EPA and other watchdog groups.
After years of frenetic drilling, the environmental footprint on the reservation is visible in all corners. Flaring, the practice of burning off excess natural gas that’s too expensive to get to market, is evident throughout the reservation. Environmental disasters like the pipeline leak in 2014 that spilled 1 million gallons of salt water that contaminated Lake Sakakawea are not uncommon.
The contaminated water, a waste byproduct of oil production, flowed through a ravine and into Bear Den Bay of Lake Sakakawea.
The company estimates the pipeline leaked for five days before the spill was discovered in July 2014. These same problems could occur along the shores of Lake Oahe.
Are preparations being made to handle environmental problems that follow oil development?
Increased crime rates
When the oil boom of the 2000s hit southern North Dakota, outside labor rushed to the Bakken drill sites for high wages. With this rush of laborers came a multitude of problems. The most troubling was the increase in the crime rate in the area.
The short supply of housing in Fort Berthold and throughout the state of North Dakota, forced these workers to rent temporary housing. These areas, mostly trailer parks are known as “man-camps.”
At one time there were more than 35 corporations extracting oil and inhabiting “man camps” on the Fort Berthold reservation alone.
According to the FBI, the area’s violent crime rate rose 121 percent from 2005 to 2011. Following a 2013 crime report, then North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem placed the blame for dramatic increase in crime rates directly on the growing oil industry and the camps that came along with it.
More recent reports show that the state’s crime rate increased by nearly 10 percent in 2015 and has stayed at that level.
Is Standing Rock prepared to battle the environmental and criminal problems that go along with the benefits of having big oil move onto their land?
Is the State of South Dakota prepared to handled the higher traffic rates, the environmental concerns, and the increase in crime that follow these booms?
Has the state laid out a plan to protect its interest in the oil boom revenue?
Leaders in the communities surrounding the West River area should be preparing as if this were on the horizon, and plans should be made in case oil companies decide to make a move into South Dakota.
So far there is no public evidence that these things are happening, but there have been some rumblings of meetings between some leaders of both North and South Dakota and the tribal leaders of both Standing Rock and Cheyenne Reservations.
As the story continues to unfold, the Tribune will continue the series of reports on these issues.
– Katie Zerr –