Reservation oil issues look familiarThe explosion of oil exploration and development on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in western North Dakota looks a lot like the rest of the Bakken play — rapid growth of quality crude oil production, an increase in good-paying jobs and a scramble to maintain roads and find housing for workers.
By: The Bismarck Tribune, The Jamestown Sun
The explosion of oil exploration and development on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in western North Dakota looks a lot like the rest of the Bakken play — rapid growth of quality crude oil production, an increase in good-paying jobs and a scramble to maintain roads and find housing for workers. If anything, the impact may be tougher because the reservation typically has less transportation and housing infrastructure in place.
Reservation officials, like state officials, are playing catch-up.
More than 400 wells tapping Bakken shale have been developed on the Fort Berthold reservation in the past three years. Expectations are that 200 more wells will be drilled this year and 900 more over the next five years. That’s a lot of drilling in an area of just more than 1,300 square miles.
The reservation traditionally has had high unemployment, many times that of the state. One hope must be that American Indian workers from the reservation can find jobs with oil crews. Certainly, oil royalties will make a difference in lives on Fort Berthold.
U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar recently saw firsthand the impact of oil development in the New Town area. He could see the need to get the Bureau of Indian Affairs up to speed on evolving issues on Fort Berthold. The BIA and the Three Affiliated Tribes have significant challenges ahead in dealing with oil development. They can learn a lot from looking at how North Dakota state government responded.
Key to the state’s initial response was to funnel funds into improving the roads and bridges — it’s a matter of safety as much as anything else. And then efforts were put into expanding housing opportunities. And, finally, more law enforcement officers were stationed in the Oil Patch. It has been a reasonably effective strategy.
Like the state, the Three Affiliated Tribes have been trying to become a player in the energy industry and it’s paying off. In addition to crude oil production on the reservation, there are signs that a proposed refinery project being developed by the Three Affiliated Tribes will also get approval.
These oil projects could dramatically change reservation life on Fort Berthold. How that change goes down will be determined largely by how well federal, state and tribal agencies respond to the rapid growth. It will be a challenge all the way around.