NEW TOWN Three Affiliated Tribes' mineral acres are being tapped for oil under Lake Sakakawea on the Fort Berthold Reservation.
The Minerals Restoration Act of 1984 restored the mineral rights under the lake to the tribe.
Fred Fox, administrator of the tribal Energy Department, said currently, nine to 12 wells are being drilled which go under the lake and about eight wells are producing from under the lake. He said two of the producing wells are on mineral acres owned by the state. Those are located in the northern part of the reservation in the Van Hook Arm.
Oil activity, like at this site east of New Town with Lake Sakakawea in the background, is happening throughout the Fort Berthold Reservation. Some wells are being drilled under the lake and there are also wells producing from under the lake.
"There's no top hole or wellheads that are in the lake. Everything is basically onshore drilling," Fox said.
He said oil companies drilling under the lake for the tribes are Marathon, Questar and Spotted Hawk.
He said Marathon is drilling in the Shell Creek-New Town-Four Bears area and also the Reunion Bay area, which is southwest of New Town. Questar and Spotted Hawk are in the Deep Water Creek Bay area southwest of Parshall in the Lucky Mound-Parshall area of the reservation.
Plans in place in case of catastrophic event
By ELOISE OGDEN
NEW TOWN Several Three Affiliated Tribes' departments are working on establishing plans of action in case a catastrophic event such as an oil spill should ever happen on the Fort Berthold Reservation.
Fred Fox, administrator of the tribal Energy Department, said according to information he has received from various sources that a high number of wells will be drilled on the reservation this year.
"We're looking at by the end of this year we'll see anywhere from 80 to 100 wells on trust minerals," Fox said.
He said a team has been formed with representatives from several tribal departments.
Don Yellow Bird, compliance analyst for the tribal Energy Department, had just attended a team meeting when he met with The Minot Daily News May 26.
"We want to make sure that all ends are covered if an emergency happens," Yellow Bird said.
The Tribal Environmental Management Association team includes representatives from the tribal Environmental Department, Fort Berthold Rural Water Program, tribal Fire Management and tribal Energy Department.
Yellow Bird, the Energy Department representative on the team, said ordinances and policies are being written and will go to tribal attorney Damon Williams for his review. The ordinances and policies then will go to the tribal business council.
"Our program here we're not sitting still," Yellow Bird said. "We are looking at more than just oil spill, we're looking at the safety of the people."
As a result of the Gulf oil spill, as of May 17, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must be part of the environmental assessment for the permitting process of every well drilled on federal lands, including Fort Berthold Reservation.
"This affects Fort Berthold because those are federal permits that are being done," Fox said. "So now every environmental assessment on every well will have concurrence from Fish and Wildlife. That is another step the federal government has put in this whole permitting process.
Tribal officials and other tribal members have complained the permitting process on the reservation slowed down oil development on the reservation because of the various federal agencies involved. As a result of the complaints, more staff was added to the BIA Fort Berthold Agency in New Town and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., pushed for the establishment of a one-stop oil-and-gas shop to help with the problem.
Fox said the approval on permits besides the concurrence with BIA and Bureau of Land Management, now will have one more layer the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, another federal agency.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued the oil- and gas-leasing reform on May 17, requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife be part of the permitting process.
Fox said Questar has roughly 53,000 mineral acres are under the lake. Marathon has from the tribe roughly 10,000 mineral acres and Spotted Hawk has about 31,500 acres.
As of May 1, Fox said the oil and gas status report from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Fort Berthold Agency in New Town lists:
115 applications for permit to drill approved.
A total amount of 503,074.72 trust acres leased.
29,889.10 acres left to lease.
40 producing wells on trust minerals.
He said the total acreage leased on Fort Berthold, which the BIA reports, includes the mineral acreage under the lake except the riverbed or the old Missouri River channel. Both the state and the tribes lay claim to the riverbed and both lease it and collect the money for leasing.
Currently, Bear Paw, an oil company, is boring a pipeline underneath Lake Sakakawea and will collect gas.
"The entire lake pretty much has been leased (of the reservation) and roughly about 14,000 acres or a little less is left," Fox said.
He said former reservation communities including Elbowoods have been leased for drilling. Elbowoods is one of the communities which was flooded when the Garrison Dam was built and Lake Sakakawea was created.
Fox said the mineral acreage which has not been leased is in the White Shield area, in the southeast quadrant of the reservation.
"White Shield is in the area where there's that kind of imaginary line of the maturity of the Bakken Formation," Fox said.
"You see a line right there," Fox said, indicating on his computer screen a map by the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division. "They believe that line is the maturity of the Bakken that meets the needs. So this area right here where White Shield is that the tribe has ownership to, has not been leased."
The Bakken is the lucrative oil-producing formation in western North Dakota. However, state oil and gas experts say the Three Forks Formation, which is under the Bakken and extends beyond the Bakken, is also expected to be quite lucrative.
Fox said a 3-D seismic company met with the tribal business council in April.
"I brought them in to basically give the tribe an option of doing 3-D seismic in the White Shield and Twin Buttes areas," Fox said.
The company is working on getting some oil companies to participate and then said it would go forward with the seismic work, he said. He said once they have that seismic data it might be "just night and day and that there's something else out there besides the Bakken."