Thursday, May 30, 2013





By Deborah LaVallie

In a recently released oil and gas assessment (April 30, 2013) by the United States Geological Survey, for the Baaken and Three Forks Formations of North and South Dakota and Montana, it was found that the estimate for oil reserves in the region, doubled to 7.4 billion barrels of potentially recoverable oil, a significant increase from 3.65 billion barrels from the 2008 assessment and expands the ‘Baaken Oil Play’ onto tribal ‘homelands’ previously thought to be unproductive. President Obama’s newly appointed Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell stated, “These world-class formations contain even more energy resource potential than previously understood, which is important information as we continue to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign sources of oil.”  More than 4,000 oil wells have been drilled in the Williston Basin since the 2008 assessment, with an estimated 6,000 more to be drilled in the near future.  As of 2011 there were 6,200 active wells in the Williston Basin.  In addition, there is an estimated 6.7 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas reserves due to the inclusion of the Three Forks Formation in the new assessment.

What this means for the tribal nations in the tri-state region is yet to be seen.  Two tribes, each positioned on opposite edges of the Baaken Formation have taken differing approaches in the development of their natural resources and their oil and gas potential and the ensuing social and environmental impacts that come with it.  Both have watched the explosion of oil development taking place on the Fort Berthold reservation located in western North Dakota in the last five years by the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations and the infusion of wealth and prosperity along with the devastating social and environmental impacts that ‘big oil’ has brought to the MHA Nation.

The Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux Tribes located on the western edge of the Baaken is actively exploring the development of their oil production and potential in the southeastern area of Fort Peck, near Brockton, Montana as an option for the economic development needed to relieve their tribes of extreme poverty and high unemployment.  The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa located on the eastern edge of the Baaken and sitting on top of the Three Forks Formation has made a commitment to actively protect and preserve their water resources and the Turtle Mountain reservation from the devastating environmental impacts of oil development and the hydraulic fracking process for their future generations. That leaves the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe located on the southern edge of the Baaken, also sitting on top of the Three Forks Formation and with an upcoming tribal election in the Fall, the issue of whether to develop their oil and gas reserves or not will likely be a contentious one.  Tribal candidates will be challenged by membership concerned about the hazards of the hydraulic fracturing, that goes along with major oil and gas development and the potential for contamination and environmental destruction of SRST tribal homelands.  At stake is the water supply for the future generations of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

According to an AP report (April 30, 2013), "Oilmen have known for years that Three Forks held a vast cache of crude, but technology and oil prices haven't made it economical until recently", said Ron Ness, President of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, representing more than 400 companies working out of western North Dakota's 'oil patch'.  North Dakota's Republican Senator John Hoeven stated, "This is good news for our state and our country", and believes that it would lessen our dependence on foreign oil.  The USGS calls the formations "the largest continuous oil accumulation it has ever assessed" — and 'some industry insiders think its potential is even stronger', though the estimated South Dakota production was 'near non-existent', according to the study.

Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Tribal Chairman, Richard McCloud, No Fracking Way Turtle Mountain's Carol Davis and Turtle Mountain Tribal Water Resources Director, Gene Laducer
Photo Credit: Deborah LaVallie  

It was a 'moment' in the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa's  history every member can take pride in.  On the agenda for the tribal council meeting (May 7, 2013) that morning was 'WATER'.  'Water Warriors' from 'No Fracking Way Turtle Mountain', a 'grassroots' activist group led by Carol Davis were scheduled to present to the council their power point on hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking' and discussion on why the group is concerned about protecting the tribe's most precious resource...water, ensuring it's use for the future generations. 

Tribal Water Resources Director, Gene Laducer in his opening statement discussed how he had been meeting with the No Fracking Way group over the last two months, working with them to be 'proactive' in the protection of the Turtle Mountain tribe's ground and surface water and coming to the conclusion that the tribe's Water Code should be 'revitalized', which hasn't been updated in years.

Group member Debbie Gourneau opened the council meeting with a prayer and smudging, then talked about the Anishinaabe 'Water Teachings', sacred knowledge that originated with the tribe's forebear's on the eastern shores of the Atlantic Ocean and of the sacred water bundles the band here in the Turtle Mountains received 40 years ago.  "In the treaties, the spokespeople didn't realize in their hearts the meaning of the treaty language, "As long as the grass grows, and the rivers flow".  What this really meant in our language and tradition, is the treaty will be in effect until our women stop giving birth...and, only then, 'we will cease to exist'.  In our tradition the women were responsible for the water and the men were responsible for the fire.  Here, in the Turtle Mountains,  in the 'heart' of Turtle Island, the blood (water) flows, and affects 'all' out there, as we are 'all' interconnected." 

The tribal council listened intently to Christa Monette's power point presentation on hydraulic fracturing and the possibilites of oil development in the Turtle Mountains, a forested wetlands in northern North Dakota that receives 10% more precipitation than the rest of the state.  Less than 1% of North Dakota is woodlands. She discussed how the fracking of a single well uses millions of gallons of water combined with hundreds of tons of chemicals including known toxins and carcinogens.  She also talked about the  gas flaring taking place in western North Dakota, a huge waste of energy that contributes to climate change and the toxic and radioactive waste water and how it's being unaccounted for in the Baaken.  There was discussion about the impacts of oil development in Fort Berthold and contamination of the water in Fort Peck.

Carol Davis stated, "There are over 500 chemicals used in the fracking process and 2-4 million gallons of fresh water used in the fracking of each well.  The water is not a renewable resource.  They are wasting millions of gallons of our precious water on one oil well.  That water becomes contaminated, radioactive 'brine' and will never be used again.  If the Little Shell Aquifer is destroyed by oil development, it would take 100 years to replenish itself."  She asked the tribal council for authorization for the group, along with the Tribe's Water Resources Department to begin working on a new water code for the tribe, with the Anishinaabe traditional teachings about the sacred water written into the Preamble. "Every one of us needs to be proactive to protect our water."  She also asked the tribal council for access to the tribe's legal resources, as the group would like to include the legal language in the rewriting of the water code giving the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa 'authority' over the Little Shell Aquifer, stating, "According to the Winter's Doctrine, a famous Montana water rights case and Supreme Court ruling, Indian tribes have a legal and inherent right to water.  The tribal water code must be in place in the tribal court, here, too." Tamara Patneaud, a group member who is spearheading a reservation wide 'clean-up', talked about how we all take our water for granted and how the group is 'trailblazing' in a new direction with the rewriting and 'revitalization' of the water code.  " Our Water is sacred", she said.  Gene Laducer ended the presentation by stating, "Our water is alive, and...we want to protect it.  What is happening in western North Dakota is a travesty for all Indian people.  I feel proud that we are taking this stand."

After discussion, the Turtle Mountain Tribal Council voted unanimously to form a new and expanded Tribal Water Board of Directors giving authority to the group to rewrite the tribe's water code.  There was support from all members of the Council for the project and for protecting the tribe's water resources.  The board will be expanded from 5 to 15 members with terms of appointment for three years.  Tribal Chairman Richard McCloud concluded, "In the future, water will be worth more than oil.  We need to protect our water here in the Turtle Mountains for our kids and grandkids."

It wasn't the first time the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa made tribal history by taking a pro environment stand for Mother Earth.  In November of 2011 No Fracking Way Turtle Mountain presented to the tribal council their presentation on hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking' and it's devastating environmental impacts.  The tribal council voted unanimously at that time to ban fracking on Turtle Mountain homelands and the resolution was signed by then, Tribal Chairman Merle St. Claire.  The tribe became one of the first tribes in the nation to ban 'fracking' within their territories and backed up that ban with a new tribal law in place.  The new tribal law states that hydraulic fracturing or any other process that is toxic is prohibited in perpetuity and this includes the lands enjoining the Little Shell Valley Aquifer, which are not part of the reservation, but which are the tribe's main source of fresh water.

Map of Rolette County, the Turtle Mountain reservation and Little Shell Aquifer

Turtle Mountain Tribal Council listening 'intently' to Christa Monette's 'fracking' power point and presentation.

Photo Credit: Deborah LaVallie

The Fort Peck reservation, the 9th largest reservation in the nation and homeland to nearly 12,000 Assiniboine and Sioux tribal members, 6,000 who reside there, sits on the western edge of the Baaken formation where the tribes are waiting in anticipation ready  to take advantage of the 'Oil Boom' hoping to alleviate the poverty and joblessness there, and, becoming less dependent on the federal government for it's funding in the process.  In an interview with Indian Country Today (May 26, 2013) Tribal Chairman Floyd Azure states, "tapping into the Baaken, would make the tribes more sovereign 'by the barrel', echoing Fort Berthold's Tribal Chairman Tex Hall, who many consider to be one of the new 'oil sheiks' of America, as the leader of the oil rich Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nations. "That means that we can take care of ourselves. If we didn't have to depend on the federal government, we'd be a hell of a lot better off than we are now. We depend on the federal government for damn near everything we have", he stated.  Over the past few years 300,000 acres have been leased to oil companies, a third of what's left of tribally-owned land at Fort Peck.  Many landowners, who are often shareholders on undivided allotments, were paid as little as $50 an acre and, are still waiting for their leases to pay out any royalties. Out of the seven Baaken oil wells drilled, none have produced so far.  

During the 1950's oil companies drilled for oil northeast of Poplar but the wells did not produce.  During a 50 year period after the disposal of the briny waste water into unlined pits, the aquifer serving Poplar and the surrounding area became contaminated with benzene and other carcinogens forcing the piping in of water from the Missouri River to certain areas on the Fort Peck reservation.  A new water pipeline has been constructed since then that pipes water from the Missouri in to Poplar.

The anticipation of wealth and prosperity at Fort Peck is palpable.  That new infusion of wealth from the 'oil boom' at Fort Berthold comes at a huge cost.  A cost to the environment and to the social fabric of the MHA tribal community.  Apparently, the Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux Tribes are willing to absorb that cost in order to become a more independent, more 'sovereign' tribal nation, though Chairman Azure remains apprehensive about it, stating they didn't have a choice.  The Turtle Mountain Tribe on the other hand has made their choice.  And, that is to protect the 'Water', what they consider as the tribe's most valuable resource for their future generations to come.  And, even though the tribe suffers from a high poverty rate and joblessness, similar to the Fort Peck Tribes, they have made the hard choice...the honorable choice and a decision the Ancestors would be proud of.  The choice that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe makes to develop their oil and gas reserves remains to be seen.  The big question...To 'Frack' or not to 'Frack'?  It's a decision that the tribal membership will have their say about in the Fall election.  And, it will be then that the People's voice will be heard.



WHEREAS, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, hereinafter referred to as the Tribe, is an unincorporated Band of Indians acting under a revised Constitution and Bylaws approved by the Secretary of the Interior on June 16, 1959, and amendments there to approved; and

WHEREAS, the Turtle Mountain Constitution and Bylaws was adopted by the tribal citizens to promote the general welfare of tribal citizens, and

WHEREAS, Article IX (a) Section 1 of the Turtle Mountain Constitution and Bylaws empowers the Tribal Council with the authority to represent the Band and to negotiate with the Federal, State and local governments and with private persons, and

WHEREAS, Article IX (a) Section 3 of the Turtle Mountain Constitution and Bylaws empowers the Tribal Council to regulate and license all business and professional activities conducted upon the reservation, and

WHEREAS, Article II Section 1 of the Turtle Mountain Constitution and Bylaws extends jurisdiction of the tribe to land on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in the State of North Dakota and to such other lands as may be acquired, by or in behalf of said Tribe and be added thereto under the laws of the United States, and

WHEREAS, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa is responsible for protecting Mother Earth from any pollutants that may cause harm to its citizens, land, water, and air: and WHEREAS, the emerging oil industry is expanding throughout the state and will eventually include Rolette County which encompasses the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa reservation and its jurisdictions; and

WHEREAS, the oil industry is using a process called hydraulic fracturing (FRACKING) to extract oil that requires the use of hazardous chemicals that ould contaminate water resources that is vital for the tribe's livelihood and sustainability; and

WHEREAS, the FRACKING process could endanger tribal water resources and the waters of the Shell Valley aquifer which is the tribe's main resource for fresh water on the Turtle Mountain reservation, and

WHEREAS, it is critical that Turtle Mountain tribal citizens-at-large are educated on the consequence of oil exploration and any other development that can cause any environmental concerns now and in the future; now

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa prohibits in perpetuity any hydraulic fracturing (FRACKING) or any other process that is toxic on lands adjoining the Shell Valley aquifer or its tributaries, or flowing water that has the potential to channel to the Shell Valley aquifer and water resources, lakes, underground springs, and wetlands where tribal citizens reside on or near the Turtle Mountain Reservation and

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa supports the efforts of tribal citizens to promote a public service campaign to inform our tribal membership of any environmental concerns pertaining to oil development and other initiatives affecting Mother Earth: and

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa directs The Bureau of Indian Affairs to cancel their Advertisement for the sale of Oil and Gas Leases that was posted in the Turtle Mountain Times and other newspapers November 21, 2011 on Allotted Indian Lands in Rolette County, North Dakota and ensure that all future bids include the tribal resolution informing the bidders that fracking is immediately banned in accordance with this resolution, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the tribe will work to develop similar laws and agreements with communities who are considering to utilize hydraulic fracturing (FRACKING) or any process that is or may be toxic on lands adjoining the Shell Valley aquifer or its tributaries or flowing water that has the potential to channel to the Shell Valley aquifer and water resources, lakes, underground springs, and wetlands where tribal citizens reside on or near the Turtle Mountain Reservation.


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