The chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes asked a congressional subcommittee Tuesday to help stop the Bureau of Land Management from implementing its proposed regulations on hydraulic fracturing.
Tex Hall told members of the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies in Washington, D.C., that the BLM's proposed regulations on hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, will hurt energy development on Indian reservations.
"MHA (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara) and every other oil and gas tribe in the country was shocked to learn that the BLM is planning to implement new requirements for oil and gas-related fracturing activities on our reservations, especially in light of the fact that the BLM currently has no staffing for this new activity, no standardized process and no proposed system for processing and approving these plans. This is exactly the type of federal mismanagement of oil and gas resources that tribes have been complaining about for at least the last four years," Hall told the subcommittee members.
Submitted Photo • Tex Hall, in black hat, asks members of a congressional subcommittee Tuesday to help stop the Bureau of Land Management from implementing proposed hydraulic fracturing requirements.
The BLM draft proposed fracking rule has not been released to the public yet.
Fracking is a method in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break open formations to let the oil and gas flow. It contributes to the success of North Dakota's oil boom on the Fort Berthold Reservation and other areas.
BLM, a bureau of the U.S. Department of Interior, has responsibility for government land, including Indian reservations.
Hall requests additional federal funds for tribe housing, road repairs among needs
Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, also asked the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies for additional fiscal year 2013 funds for housing for health center staff, road repairs and other tribal needs.
His requests include:
-$12 million minimum for staff housing for Elbowoods Memorial Health Center in New Town.
-Around $54 million for repairs of Fort Berthold Reservation roads.
-Reallocation of $500,000 for One-Stop Shop to oversee oil and gas permitting on Fort Berthold.
He said the subcommittee funded in fiscal year 2012 new personnel for the health center but staff quarters are needed to complete the project.
Hall said the oil and gas boom on the Fort Berthold Reservation has brought many positive things, but there's also serious problems, including a housing shortage. He said Indian Health Service's response to providing housing for health center staff is it did not build the facility and feels it has no obligation to request funding to house the new IHS-funded staff who will serve the facility.
"The bottom line is that we need a minimum of $12 million to construct homes for the 60-plus IHS-funded employees that this committee has appropriated dollars to hire. The MHA (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara) Nation has already done its part, by spending in excess of $1.6 million in tribal funds to prepare the site for these new homes and bringing in the utilities, but we simply cannot afford to construct those units," Hall said.
Without the funding, he said the tribes will not be able to recruit personnel and will also have to increase the salaries of the few clinical staff they can recruit just to allow them to pay the high costs of housing. This, he said, will undercut the ability to deliver effective health
care to patients at a reasonable cost to taxpayers.
He asked for a separate one-time appropriation of around $54 million to reconstruct the main roads on the reservation that will allow them to be maintained at a reasonable cost.
The reservation has 1,081 miles of road, but Hall said those roads were never built to withstand the types of heavy truck traffic that has come from the oil and gas boom.
"Presently, there are so many potholes on our paved roads that the tribe simply cannot keep up with the maintenance, Hall said. He said the Bureau of Indian Affairs roads maintenance budget is inadequate to cover road maintenance and there is a road safety crisis for school buses, emergency vehicles, oil and gas industry vehicles and others who travel the roads.
He also requested the subcommittee to make fiscal year 2012 funding for the One-Stop Shop a part of the BIA's permanent base budget.
The One-Stop Shop oversees and coordinates oil and gas permitting activities on Fort Berthold.
He asked that the Appropriations Committee reallocate $500,000 for the One-Stop Shop from the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development and build into the BIA base budget so it is available each year for the Great Plains Region and the Fort Berthold Agency Office.
Hall said this level of funding needs to be maintained, and even increased, to keep the permit- approval process running smoothly and to eliminate existing and growing permit backlogs at the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Fort Berthold has about 1 million acres of land.
About 530,000 acres of land on Fort Berthold is trust land tribal and allottees (individual landowners), said Fred Fox, administrator of the Three Affiliated Tribes' Energy Division.
The BLM and Bureau of Indian Affairs are among several federal agencies that must approve oil and gas leases on Fort Berthold.
Including the Three Affiliated Tribes, there are about a dozen oil and gas producing tribes in the country, said Jeff Hunt, a Bureau of Indian Affairs petroleum engineer.
Adam K. Fetcher, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Interior in Washington, D.C., told The Minot Daily News in an email Wednesday, "In support of the President's energy priorities, Secretary (Ken) Salazar believes that hydraulic fracturing technologies are integral to our continued ability to expand exploration and production of natural gas on public lands. As we continue to expand domestic natural gas production, it is essential that the public have full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place.
"Based on preliminary input we have received from industry, the public and stakeholders, Secretary Salazar has clearly outlined three common-sense measures that we intend to gather feedback on. Those measures are straightforward: 1) requiring public disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, with appropriate protections for trade secrets; 2) improving assurances on well-bore integrity so we know fluids going into the well aren't escaping; and 3) making sure companies have a water management plan in place for fluids that flow back to the surface. We will continue to gather public input throughout this process to ensure that the disclosure rule enhances public confidence in hydraulic fracturing on public lands, while also encouraging continued safe and responsible exploration and production for many decades to come."
Hall told the subcommittee members they need to act immediately to prevent BLM from spending any federal money to implement the new regulations and requirements in order to save domestic energy production and jobs in many states across the country.
He said it already takes five to 20 times longer to get an oil and gas permit on Indian lands and BLM and the other federal agencies involved in on-reservation permitting already lack the staff required to keep up with their current responsibilities.
"For this reason alone, Congress should prevent BLM from creating another requirement that it does not have any practical ability to implement," Hall said.
Tribes are requesting appropriations language to prohibit federal dollars from being used to implement the new BLM fracking requirements until such a time as the BLM completes a number of prerequisites.
Hall said those prerequisites include:
1. The BLM needs to meet with tribes who will be impacted by the requirements and start working with them to make sure their practical problems are addressed before any new requirements take effect.
2. BLM should not be allowed to implement new requirements until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completes its study on fracking, a study requested by the full House Appropriations Committee in its fiscal year 2010 budget report, and until the tribes have had an opportunity to review and respond to that study. The study is expected to be completed in 2014.
3. BLM needs to develop a staffing and implementation plan to ensure its review and approval of fracking plans will not add to the already existing delays for oil and gas permits to be approved on reservations. "It should also be required to request and receive the funding necessary to fill those plan approval positions, and to complete the hiring and training of those individuals, before it is allowed to implement these types of new regulations," Hall said.
4. BLM should be required to demonstrate it can maintain the staffing levels necessary to review and approve fracking plans; has an adequate process in place to ensure there is no duplication of existing requirements for on-reservation permits to drill; and it has an implementation plan that will phase in fracking requirements over time, as the federal agencies and oil and gas industry working on the reservations become familiar with the new demands.
"If this is not done, our oil and gas production on our reservation will cease. It's that simple," Hall said.
On Thursday, a regulatory meeting was held at the 4 Bears Casino and Lodge, west of New Town. Oil and gas operators on the Fort Berthold Reservation, tribal business council and federal agencies met to discuss new regulations that will have impact on Fort Berthold, including BLM's draft proposed fracking rules.