MINOT AIR FORCE BASE Missile sites sharing the same area with drilling rigs and other oil-field equipment, and agricultural operations in western North Dakota brings about some challenges for Minot Air Force Base officials.
To prevent any potential encroachment problems, base officials are working with the oil and gas industry and state.
"We're seeing the same thing that residents of the whole area are seeing. There's a lot of additional traffic due to the oil industry and that creates some complications," said Col. Stephen L. Davis, commander of the base's 91st Missile Wing.
From the left, Lt. Col. Eric Werner, judge advocate of the 5th Bomb Wing, Kevin Nelson, deputy commander of the 5th Mission Support Group, and Col. Stephen L. Davis, commander of the 91st Missile Wing, are shown Friday in front of the missile wing headquarters building at Minot Air Force Base. To prevent any potential encroachment problems in the missile field, Minot AFB officials are working with the oil and gas industry and the state.
Last month Kevin Nelson, deputy commander of the 5th Mission Support Group, Col. Stephen Williams, commander of the 91st Maintenance Group, representing Davis, and Lt. Col. Eric Werner, judge advocate of the base's 5th Bomb Wing, met with the North Dakota Petroleum Council's Regulatory Committee and North Dakota Public Service Commission staff in Bismarck to begin conversations on any encroachment issues that may arrise.
On Friday, Kari Cutting, vice president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, will visit the base and be given a tour of Uniform One and see a B-52, said Werner.
Uniform One is a missile wing training launch facility on the base. Cutting's husband, Rick Cutting, a retired Naval commander who is Criminal Justice Department chair at United Tribes Technical College, Bismarck, will accompany her.
Mineral rights owners
MINOT AIR FORCE BASE Who owns the mineral rights for missile facilities in the missile field and also Minot Air Force Base?
Kevin Nelson, deputy commander of the 5th Mission Support Group, and Lt. Col. Eric Werner, judge advocate with the 5th Bomb Wing, have provided the answer as follows:
The U.S. government has the mineral rights for the main base.
For all other real properties controlled by Minot AFB, the original landowners maintained the mineral rights.
Also, mineral rights for all government properties are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.
Petroleum council representatives also have been invited to the base in June to continue the conversations and give them an orientation about the mission of the missile wing and its members.
The 91st Missile Wing wing operates, maintains and secures 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, 15 missile alert facilities and 150 remote launch facilities covering an 8,500-square-mile area in north-central and northwest North Dakota. That area includes portions of the North Dakota oil field. The missile wing also has eight UH-1N helicopters that provide security support to the missile field.
Davis leads more than 1,600 airmen in support of the nation's land-based ICBM force.
"We're concerned about encroachment on the missile sites and we just want to make sure they understand what the rules are," Davis said of the visits with oil and gas industry representatives.
Letters have been sent to a number of the oil companies.
"I think they have a pretty good understanding of what the encroachment is and we're working with them to avoid a problem," Davis said. "The Air Force doesn't want to get into a situation where someone puts something and encroaches, and then we have to make a decision to either make them pull it out or move it because that's expensive and that's just not a smart way to do business. We're not trying to make it harder for them, we're just trying to make sure that our equities are protected and we think that by being proactive and talking to them, that's the best way to do it. That way we'll avoid mistakes that are costly to the companies."
Nelson said a verbal agreement was made in 2007 with the oil industry that said the oil industry would stay outside the military's 1,200-foot easement. "They were very cooperative," he added.
The easement allows for exploration of minerals, and it also allows for agricultural uses, they said.
"Frankly, we have a similar issue with just landowners in general," Davis said.
The federal government obtained the easements 50 or more years ago.
"Sometimes this land has been handed down or sold and people don't understand the restrictions that go with the U.S. government property, so there have been some cases you have some folks building within that easement area and we're working with them to address that," Davis said.
"We're going out to all the missile counties all the planning folks are reminding them about the easements. Once again, our goal is to prevent any issues not to have to address them after they occur," Davis said.
No issues have occurred, but they said a couple matters they found out about ahead of time and prevented them from happening.
Davis said one of the challenges is the oil companies are drawing more power. Base officials are working with a number of electric cooperatives on the matter.
"We've had problems with farmers along the same lines," Nelson said. He said when farmers are drying or moving grain, all that electrical equipment throws a voltage fluctuation into the system and causes problems. "The co-ops go out there and put filters in and kind of balance that. It hasn't been an issue but it does pop up from time to time," he said.
Davis said a man camp is being built close to a launch facility and base officials are working with them just to make sure they remain outside the restricted easements. That site is just east of New Town.
Nelson said primarily what they look for is not to have any inhabited structures.
As a result of meeting with the N.D. Public Service Commission staff, base officials are notified of construction near missile sites that the PSC has jurisdiction over.
"Since then, any pipeline, wind generators, anything like that the Public Service Commission has jurisdiction over, they're notifying us about anything that's even close to a missile site," Nelson said.
"I would say that the final challenge that we're working through is just the condition of the roads. As you know, we drive some very heavy special purpose vehicles over the roads," Davis said.
The military spends millions of dollars a year to keep those roads in the right kind of condition and conduct those operations, Davis said. "We're working with the counties closely because that increased traffic is having an effect on some of those roads."
"At the end of the day, what we do the mission of this wing is to protect the American people and preserve their liberties. Certainly a free commerce is one of those liberties that we defend, so we are trying to do our best to conduct our important national security mission while also aligning and assuring that those local North Dakotans and oil industry can go about their freedoms and rights, and conduct commerce," Davis said.