Stakes are high in fracking debate on Indian reservations
BY ZACK COLMAN | AUGUST 7, 2014 | 5:00 AM
TOPICS: INTERIOR NORTH DAKOTA PENNAVE ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT FRACKING NATIVE AMERICANS OIL NATURAL GAS SALLY JEWELL
A house in Mandaree, N.D., on the Fort Berthold Indian . AnÂ underground pipeline several miles…
For Native Americans, the debate over fracking on reservations is not much different from the arguments elsewhere. But the stakes are vastly higher.
For many tribes in the United States, allowing hydraulic fracturing to drill for fossil fuels offers an economic boost in areas that have few options. But concerns about the damage it may do to the environment are compounded by centuries-old ties to the land.
Lisa DeVille, 39, first learned about the issue when she was going door-to-door collecting signatures to save the post office in her hometown of Mandaree, N.D., on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.
As it turned out, her neighbors were more concerned about oil and gas development on the reservation, so she began logging their complaints instead. She now has serious concerns about fracking, in which water and other chemicals are injected deep into the ground to bring natural gas and oil to the surface.
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“I don’t want no oil company telling us everything’s OK and that they’ve got it handled because they’ll lie to us,” DeVille said. “We’re supposed to be keepers of the Earth, and that’s what I’ve been taught since I was a little girl. That’s our story. That’s what we came from.”
Despite such concerns, many tribes are moving ahead. Federal fossil fuel royalties awarded to U.S. tribes hit $971 million last fiscal year, more than double the $404 million disbursed in 2010.
It’s a progression that tracks the fracking boom generally, and it has tribes around the country looking to tap into potential shale in their backyards. For a population that, according to census data, is nearly twice as likely to live in poverty compared to the rest of the country, that money is even more important.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in North Dakota. The Three Affiliated Tribes — the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara — that call the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation home have been flush in new money, though federal records don’t say exactly how much each tribe receives from royalties.
But it appears the three tribes are doing well enough, as they are building a bond-financed $450 million refinery in nearby New Town, N.D., that will be able to process 20,000 barrels of oil per day.
“Our experience working with the tribes have been positive,” Rick Rymerson, field manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s North Dakota office, told the Washington Examiner. “They totally understand it. It’s obviously a huge boon to the economy up here.”