BELCOURT The Turtle Mountain Reservation doesn't have oil development right now. But Delvin Cree is getting the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa ready for when that day comes.
Cree has been contracted as oil development specialist/adviser to the Turtle Mountain Tribe. He is gathering information from the Three Affiliated Tribes including its Energy Department and Tribal Employments Rights Office, North Dakota's congressional delegation, Governor's office, and state agencies, including the Office of Indian Affairs and North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.
"Oil development is going to happen and the tribe needs to be prepared for it." Cree said. He said the Three Affiliated Tribes on the Fort Berthold Reservation didn't have much time to prepare for the development going on there now.
As of June 1, Fort Berthold had 140 wells producing, 14 wells drilling and 40 wells waiting completion or pipeline. A total number of 2,857 leases were approved and a total of 505,340.04 acres on Fort Berthold were leased, according to a status report prepared by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Fort Berthold Agency's Realty Department in New Town. The report also said oil and gas royalty distributions for the Three Affiliated Tribes and allottees (individual landowners) totaled $8.6 million for May.
Cree listed a few priorities in making plans for oil development on the Turtle Mountain Reservation.
He said one of the major priorities are roads. He said a plan needs to be established to prepare for the oil development traffic.
Currently, he said there is no oil development on the reservation but there is oil development west and northwest of the reservation. There is development in Bottineau County and on the Canadian side, Cree said.
"We do see a lot of truck activity now in Dunseith," Cree said.
He lives in Dunseith which is a few miles west of the reservation. He said many oil-field vehicles are stopping to fill up with gas there. He said roads already are starting to show the impact of the traffic.
"People are noticing the roads are getting a little tore up now with a little bit extra activity," he said.
He said according to published reports, correcting road conditions on and around the Fort Berthold Reservation is going to cost $1 million to $1.5 million per mile.
Cree said another priority in planning for oil development is to establish a tribal energy department for the Turtle Mountain Reservation. He said Fred Fox, director of the Three Affiliated Tribes' Energy Department, has provided him with information on what is needed to establish an energy department on the Turtle Mountain Reservation.
Cree's met with a land office in Minot to discuss having that office possibly manage the land records. "We went to them," Cree added.
He said they are looking at putting together a one-stop shop "because, obviously, the BIA does not have the personnel to handle it," Cree said.
He said they're looking at the tribe doing the leasing. He said the BIA has what is called a "638 contract" in which the tribe can take on some of the responsibilities the BIA cannot do.
He said the tribe will also need to put in place its own codes of environmental impact. "That's another department we would have to establish and put those laws together. That also would be a '638 contract,'" he said.
By setting up a one-stop shop, Cree said they would have Minerals Management, the BIA and hopefully, also have the tribal land management located within that shop plus other agencies.
Explaining that Turtle Mountain tribal members already are being hired by oil-field companies, he said this spring a pipeline company in the Williston area which is working toward Fort Berthold Reservation, contacted the Turtle Mountain Tribal Employment Rights Office, commonly called TERO, because it needed 250 workers. He said a job fair was held this past spring on the reservation and more than 200 people attended.
"Out of the 200 people, 25 got hired and went to work that following Monday," he said. He said those who hired were experienced in truck driving and equipment operations.
This week, Cree attended the renewable energy summit held in New Town, sponsored by the Three Affiliated Tribes.
He plans to meet soon with North Dakota's congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., about what the tribe still needs to do to plan for oil development.
"There's a lot of work to be done," Cree said.