(Editor’s note: This is the third installment of a series concerning oil exploration possibilities West River and what it could mean for Mobridge in the near future. Several stories will follow with answers to questions raised in this series.)
Noting that the U.S. has spent decades relying on foreign energy supplies, it is now on the brink of becoming the lead exporter of oil, gas, coal and other energy resources, according to the current administration. President Donald Trump’s administration is barreling (pardon the pun) head on toward one of its primary goals: to make the United States energy dominant.
Not just energy independent, but energy dominant.
Stated in their public energy policy, the Trump Administration has slashed regulations, protections and what they deemed as “harmful and unnecessary policies.” By lifting these restrictions, which they say will greatly help American workers, wages will increase by more than $30 billion over the next seven years.
Stated as the basis of their energy policy, the Trump Administration has vowed to increase oil production.
“We have vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America. The Trump Administration will embrace the shale oil and gas revolution to bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans. We must take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own. We will use the revenues from energy production to rebuild our roads, schools, bridges and public infrastructure. Less expensive energy will be a big boost to American agriculture, as well,” the White House policy reads.
According to the administration’s stated policy, domestic energy production is in America’s national security interest, gaining energy independence from the OPEC cartel and any nations hostile to U.S. interests.
Trump’s first major policy speech on the campaign trail, delivered in the oil-drilling hotbed of North Dakota in 2016, focused on his plans for unleashing domestic energy production.
Trump’s policy goal is to boost foreign sale of U.S. natural gas, oil and coal, help strengthen the country’s influence globally, bolster international alliances, and help stabilize global markets. He is pushing energy abundance positions in the United States to give access to affordable, reliable energy at home, giving the U.S. a major competitive advantage.
Trump’s administration feels that energy dominance will also improve the balance of trade, rebuild heavy manufacturing and modernize infrastructure at home.
According to White House policy, the increased energy production on federal lands is an integral part of that plan. Oil and natural gas prices have fallen dramatically thanks to the fracking revolution and increased production. The policy includes opening up more federal lands to energy production, which will further increase domestic oil and natural gas production. This will in turn lower energy prices, increase royalty payments to offset the national debt and bolster the American economy, according to the plan.
The administration is expected to cutback ethanol, wind and solar energy funding and concentrate on clean coal energy and increasing natural gas exports.
More natural gas exports will bring environmental and strategic political relief to countries abroad, while simultaneously providing America economic and strategic political benefits, according to the Trump policy.
Accomplishing this goal
A few hints on how they expect to accomplish this goal have been dropped on the national level. According to a transcript of a June 28 meeting at the White House that included the president, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, tribal, state and local leaders, the president mentioned what the policy would mean to Native American tribes.
In his opening remarks, the president told tribal leaders that they were there to talk about creating a vast prosperity for their people and the citizens of the U.S. by unlocking vast treasures of energy reserves.
“I am proud to have such a large gathering of tribal leaders here at the White House,” he told the group. “Many of your lands have rich natural resources that stand to benefit your people immensely. These untapped resources of wealth can help you to build new schools, fix roads, improve your communities and create jobs — jobs like you have never seen before.”
He explained that under the Trump Administration the wealth from these natural treasures would be easier for the tribes to use. He said other administrations had issued far too many restrictions for federal lands.
He told the tribal leaders these infringements on tribal sovereignty are deeply unfair to Native Americans, who have been denied access to this energy and wealth. Part of his plan to help Native Americans tap into this vast wealth was to lift restrictions on American energy, including that on tribal land.
“I don’t want to be energy free,” he told them. “We want to be energy dominant in terms of the world.”
He told tribal leaders that his administration wants to cooperate and support their people by unleashing these domestic energy reserves.
“I am confidant that working together we can usher in a golden age of American energy dominance and the extraordinary financial and security benefits that it brings,” he told the group.
But what does this mean for Northern South Dakota?
Recent legislation introduced in Congress, the ONSHORE (Opportunities for the Nation and States to Harness Onshore Resources for Energy) Act, would make drilling on federal land less restrictive. According to testimony by the Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms, the bill seeks to establish a program that will let states manage oil and gas permitting on behalf of the federal government in situations where the federal government doesn’t own the surface rights to the land.
The North Dakota Congressional delegation, including Senators John Hoeven (R) and Heidi Heitkamp (D), back another piece of legislation, the BLM Mineral Spacing Act. This bill would waive the requirement for federal permitting in cases where less than 50 percent of subsurface mineral rights are owned or held in trust by the federal government.
According to this law if at least 51 percent of mineral rights owners on federal land on which the feds do not own the mineral rights agree to allow drilling, that is enough to allow the drilling to begin. Formerly the rule was 75 percent.
In a nutshell, regulations (permitting) on federal land (national parks and reservations, for example) stymies state’s economic growth, according to Senator Hoeven’s explanation of this proposed law. In states, such as North and South Dakota, where federal lands are mixed in with private land, this infringes on the rights of the private landowners who own the mineral rights.
Senator Heitkamp said recently that she is working on a bipartisan bill in the Senate that would address similar issues by eliminating certain (duplicate) permitting on federal, as well as Indian lands.
This would get rid of certain permitting on land where the federal government does not have ownership of the surface. The Bureau of Land Management manages the federal government’s nearly 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate located beneath federal, state and private lands on which it does not own the surface rights.
In North Dakota for instance, Helms told a congressional subcommittee 60 percent of oil wells with federal mineral rights don’t include any federal surface rights, requiring further permitting.
One well on land with federal mineral rights requiring this type of permitting delays drilling. These laws would eliminate that permitting, allowing for drilling on all land, not just land on which the federal government has the surface rights, increasing the availability of land for oil wells.
Part of the plan?
According to geological study information, the prolific shale formations that produce oil in the North Dakota Bakken do not exist this far south; however, according to other reports, there are subsurface formations in South Dakota that appear as an important source of oil. These formations, known as Three Forks (see map), have had oil shows in wells that were drilled there, but abandoned after the Alaska and North Dakota booms.
With advancements in technology, such as the 3D seismic technology, exploring for oil on federal lands, is appealing to oil companies.
The oil industry, with the push of the Trump Administration and the use of new technology, could be coming to South Dakota and sooner than we think.
What has the Dakota Access Pipeline have to do with all of this?
That will be explored in Part Four of this series.
– Katie Zerr –