Quantcast
Energy

Fracking Boom in North Dakota Has Heavy Impact on Native Americans

Earth Island Journal

By James William Gibson

Mandaree singers at a Pow Wow. Some worry that while the tribes are spending a lot of their new oil money on preserving and promoting their culture, the efforts are futile because the tribes' relationship to the land is being destroyed. Photo by Flickr user hansen.berlin

In just five years North Dakota has gone from a quiet agricultural state to a rapidly industrializing energy powerhouse. By the middle of 2012 North Dakota was producing about 660,000 barrels of oil a day, more than twice as much as just two years before. That number makes North Dakota the second largest oil producing state in the U.S., after Texas.

North Dakota’s political establishment—Democrats and Republicans alike—view the oil boom as a huge success. Thanks largely to the new oil play in the Bakken, the state’s economy is surging. More than 41,000 workers were hired in North Dakota between 2008 and 2012, and the state has the lowest unemployment rate in the country. National leaders are pleased, too. All the oil pouring out of North Dakota has markedly improved U.S. energy security. As recently as 2005, the U.S. was importing 60 percent of the oil it consumes; today imports account for 42 percent of consumption.

But not everyone is happy about the situation. Traveling across northwest North Dakota it is not difficult to find farmers and ranchers who are outraged by what they are experiencing. Many North Dakotans view the oil rush as an assault on their communities and the places they love. The current oil rush seems to them different than the last oil boom that took over the state in the 1970s. The petroleum in the Bakken Shale is what the fossil fuel industry refers to as “tight oil,” or what environmentalists call “extreme energy.” Like the petroleum locked in the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, shale oil is hard to get at even with the most advanced technologies. All of the extra effort involved in extraction means that Bakken oil has an especially heavy impact—on water resources, on land use, on wildlife and habitat, on the fabric of communities. The oil rush in North Dakota has turned life there inside out. As White Earth rancher Scott Davis puts it: “We’re collateral damage.”

The degradation of western North Dakota is especially poignant for the 12,000 Native American residents of the Fort Berthold Reservation, home of the Mandan, Hidatsua and Arikara. The nations, known as the Three Affiliated Tribes, today live on a fragment of their historical territory. The Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1851 affirmed a 12-million-acre reservation in the Great Plains, but by 1880 the U.S. had disposed of all but 988,000 acres, and of these, white farmers and ranchers soon came to own about half. In the 1950s, the federal government forced the tribe to sell 175,000 acres of prime farmland along the Missouri River valley for Lake Sakakawea. Today, the oil rush—more than 500 wells now pump oil on Ft. Berthold and another 1,600 to 3,000 are planned for the next five years—is jeopardizing the remaining 400,000 acres of Indian land holdings.

The Three Affiliated Tribes’ official position is that drilling benefits the community. One-third of the tribal members at Ft. Berthold own some mineral rights, and the tribe has established its own energy company with long-term plans to take over energy production on the reservation. Tribal Chairman Tex Hall says oil will bring the reservation “sovereignty by the barrel.”

But the reality is that little oil money reaches most of the reservation. According to activists Walter and Lisa Deville and Theodora Bird Bear, lifelong residents of the reservation town of Mandaree, none of the oil money collected by either the tribe or the state of North Dakota comes back to their town. Mandaree is mostly poor: two-thirds of the population lives three families to a house. Earlier this year, the Devilles and Bird Bear did a survey of Mandaree residents to gauge their views on the oil boom. Of those they questioned, 84 percent said they do not receive adequate information on environmental impacts to air, water quality and land; 92 percent said they fear drilling-related spills.

Oil production is starting to displace the tribal culture based around agriculture and grazing livestock. Marilyn Hudson, 76, the head of the Three Affiliated Tribes Museum, worries that “the tribes are spending a lot of their new oil money on cultural things such as language, clan systems, hand games, and pow wows, but these efforts are mostly futile because the relationship to the land is being destroyed. We are looking at the death of our tribal society as we knew it.”

The intrusion of fleets of trucks on rural roads has degraded quality of life in western North Dakota. From exploratory drilling through completion, it takes about a thousand truck trips to frack a shale oil well. “If you have a post box on the side of the road, it’s full of dirt,” says Walter Deville.

“Our people at the Ft. Berthold reservation are literally being killed by oil companies,” says Kandi Mosset, a resident of New Town and the climate campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network. “We’ve suffered over a dozen truck-related deaths on our roads since 2008.”

Theodora Bird Bear, 61, remembers that before drilling arrived in the area, Mandaree served “as a refuge for endangered species, a sanctuary. But it’s a fragile environment and cannot take continuous hits like this. Ft. Berthold is our last historic land. This is it.”

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

 

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Fracking
A protester outside the site where fracking restarted in the UK in October. OLI SCARFF / AFP / Getty Images

UK Fracking Paused Again After Largest Quake Yet

It would appear that the resurgence of fracking in the UK is on very shaky ground. A company called Cuadrilla restarted the controversial technique at a site in Lancashire, in Northwest England, just two months ago after a seven year hiatus. But it spent a month of that time doing tests with smaller volumes of water after a series of small earthquakes in October, The Guardian reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
A reindeer in Sweden. Alexandre Buisse (Nattfodd) / GNU Free Documentation License

Reindeer Numbers Have Fallen by More than Half in 2 Decades

It's a sad Christmas for the world's reindeer—the antlered Arctic grazers associated with all things Santa Claus. Their numbers have fallen by more than half in the past 20 years, and climate change is likely to blame.

The latest numbers come from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 2018 Arctic Report Card, which listed the increasing impacts of global warming on the earth's northernmost region, as EcoWatch has already reported. But the loss of Rangifer tarandus—called caribou in North America and Greenland and reindeer in Siberia and Europe—is of note because it threatens to further throw Arctic ecosystems and cultures out of whack. Reindeer are important prey for wolves and biting flies, and a key source of food and clothing for indigenous groups.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Mackinac Bridge from Straits of Mackinac. Gregory Varnum / Wikimedia Commons

Michigan Gov. Signs Bill to Keep Line 5 Pipeline Flowing

Michigan's outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation on Wednesday that creates a new government authority to oversee a proposed oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac to effectively allow Canadian oil to keep flowing through the Great Lakes.

The controversial tunnel will encase a replacement segment for Enbridge Energy's aging Line 5 pipelines that run along the bottom of the Straits, a narrow waterway that connects Lakes Huron and Michigan.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
The illegal La Pampa gold mine, seen here in 2017, has devastated the Peruvian Amazon and spread poisonous mercury. Planet Labs

Unprecedented New Map Unveils Illegal Mining Destroying Amazon

A first-of-its-kind map has unveiled widespread environmental damage and contamination of the Amazon rainforest caused by the rise illegal mining.

The survey, released Monday by the Amazon Socio-Environmental Geo-Referenced Information Project (RAISG), identifies at least 2,312 sites and 245 areas of prospecting or extraction of minerals such as gold, diamonds and coltan in six Amazonian countries—Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. It also identified 30 rivers affected by mining and related activities.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
Mako sharks killed at the South Jersey Shark Tournament in June 2017. Lewis Pugh

Shark Fishing Tournaments Devalue Ocean Wildlife and Harm Marine Conservation Efforts

By Rick Stafford

Just over three years ago, I was clinging to a rock in 20 meters of water, trying to stop the current from pulling me out to sea. I peered out into the gloom of the Pacific. Suddenly, three big dark shapes came into view, moving in a jerky, yet somehow smooth and majestic manner. I looked directly into the left eyes of hammerhead sharks as they swam past, maybe 10 meters from me. I could see the gill slits, the brown skin. But most of all, what struck me was just how big these animals are—far from the biggest sharks in the seas, but incredibly powerfully built and solid. These are truly magnificent creatures.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Sen. Joe Manchin and United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts held a press conference on Oct. 3, 2017. Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call

Coal-Friendly Manchin Named Top Dem on Senate Energy Panel

After weeks of discord over the potential appointment, Sen. Joe Manchin, the pro-coal Democrat of West Virginia, was named the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Sen. Chuck Schumer announced Tuesday.

Many Democrats and environmental groups were adamantly opposed to Manchin serving as the top Democrat on the committee that oversees policies on climate change, public lands and fossil fuel production.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Hikers on the Mt. Hollywood Trail in Griffin Park, Calif. while a brush fire burned in the Angeles National Forest on Aug. 26, 2009. Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Major Health Study Shows Benefits of Combating Climate Change

During the holiday season, people often drink toasts to health. There's something more we can do to ensure that we and others will enjoy good health now and into the future: combat climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Employees of Rural Renewable Energy Alliance working together with students and faculty of Leech Lake Tribal Collage to construct solar panels, 2017. Ryan James White

A Tribe in Northern Minnesota Shows the Country How to Do Community Solar

By Susan Cosier

Last summer on a reservation in northern Minnesota, students from Leech Lake Tribal College earned their solar installation licenses while they dug, drilled and connected five photovoltaic arrays. The panels shine blue on the plain, reflecting the sky as they generate roughly 235 megawatts of electricity a year, enough to help 100 families pay their energy bills. This is community solar in action.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!