[Marxism] Fracking in South Dakota

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Sep 24 10:55:31 MDT 2012

(Somehow this got filtered by Mailman. I am forwarding it for Hunter Bear.)

Our family knows North Dakota quite well.  On my Anglo mother's side, 
direct ancestors came into Dakota Territory in the 1870s and 1880s and 
established substantial land holdings.  On my good spouse Eldri's side, 
her father's people were early homesteaders in the very challenging turf 
of the north central part of the state.  Prior to our coming here to 
Idaho, we lived in North Dakota for sixteen years -- thirteen of which 
were spent by me teaching American Indian Studies and Honors at the 
University of North Dakota.

This article gives a pretty good overview of a very sharp clash of 
cultures:  those of the Native tribes (in this case, the Three 
Affiliated Tribes -- Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara) -- and greedy and 
completely uninhibited "industrial development."  I am quite certain 
that, despite the sharp vicissitudes, the Natives and their tribes and 
cultures will certainly survive.  Short of total physical genocide, 
Natives always have and Natives always will.  (Hunter Bear)

AlterNet [1] / By Evelyn Nieves [2]
The North Dakota Oil Fracking Boom Creates Clash of Money and Devastation
September 22, 2012  |

This story was produced with support from the Economic Hardship 
Reporting Project [3].

NEW TOWN N.D. --When the black gold rush began, no one on the Fort 
Berthold Indian Reservation expected it to take down Main Street.

A modest strip of one- and two-story buildings framed by undulating 
plains, Main Street doubled as the reservation’s community hub, in the 
tradition of small towns. Neighbors caught up at the Jack and Jill 
grocery, elders strolled to the library, children rode their bikes on 
the streets.

No one imagined tanker trucks barreling up and down Main Street, 
back-to-back like freight trains, seven days and nights a week.  No one 
predicted construction zones that grind traffic to a halt as far as the 
eye can see, the deafening clatter of semis, the dust kicked up by 
10,000 vehicles pulverizing the two-lane road every day or the smell and 
taste of diesel. No one anticipated the accidents, two or more a week on 
Main Street and all over the rutted reservation roads, costing lives and 
shattering families.

In fact, Fort Berthold, home of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, 
or Three Affiliated Tribes, did not reckon on a lot when North Dakota 
invited the energy industry to Drill Baby Drill. No one knew that energy 
companies in search of housing for their workers would buy private 
property and evict some of the reservation’s poorest residents from 
their homes. No one planned on police and fire calls multiplying. No one 
guessed that on a reservation of nearly one million acres, all the deer 
would disappear.

In the heart of the refuge of recession America, this little-known tribe 
is grappling mightily with the consequences of striking oil.

“It’s horrible,” said Becky Deschamp, a 41-year-old lifelong Fort 
Berthold resident.

Deschamp offered that verdict while packing her trailer, not by choice. 
In November, an oil company bought the run-down Prairie Winds Trailer 
Park two blocks off Main Street where she and her husband and two 
children have lived for seven years.  With land and housing nearly 
impossible to find, the park’s 45 families—more than 180 adults and 
children in all— were given two extensions before the final Aug. 31 
deadline to leave.

Just six weeks before the deadline, when the tribe cleared and prepared 
a lot three miles outside of New Town, the evictees still had no idea 
where they would go. But they were luckier than some. Last year, a 
nearby trailer park was sold and its residents given 30 days to move. 
The tribe offered them a field about 10 miles away, but soon after they 
moved there, the lot buckled under sewer and water demands.  When the 
ground began to sink, families had to relocate again, even farther away 
from town.

“The tribe didn’t count on these disruptions,” Deschamp said, surveying 
the boarded trailers and junked cars left behind by neighbors. “I know I 

What the tribe counted on when the boom hit two years ago was money.  It 
never had any to spare and the recession made things worse.  About 40 
percent of the tribal workforce was unemployed and people were leaving 
the land where the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara have lived for more than 
a millennium. For a nation with only about 4,500 of its 13,000 enrolled 
members living on the rez, the wretched economy threatened the 
community’s very survival. Then Fort Berthold turned into a black gold 

The reservation’s swath of prairie and pasturelands sits over the 
Bakken, the biggest sea of oil discovered in the United States in 40 
years. Until a few years ago, the Bakken, which also stretches across 
parts of South Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan, was too deep to mine. 
Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which 
involves blasting chemical-laced water and sand deep underground to 
break apart shale and release gas, has given oil companies the means to 
have their way with the Bakken. And so they have.

Several states have banned fracking as too environmentally taxing. Other 
states have limited the practice. Not North Dakota.

With few regulations and little protest, oil production is proceeding at 
a dizzy pace. Last year, North Dakota became the third largest oil 
producing state in the nation, bumping California. This year it replaced 
Alaska for the number two spot after Texas. The oil patch is now 
producing more than 600,000 barrels of oil a day.  Thanks to oil taxes 
and related revenue, North Dakota is expecting its surplus to top $2 
billion within the year. This in a state with only 641,480 people pre-boom.

New Town, with about 1,500 residents pre-boom, now boasts North Dakota’s 
fastest growing economy.  But while it is on Fort Berthold, it is 
considered part of Mountrail County, not part of the tribal nation.

Still, the tribe is raking in cash. The Fort Berthold reservation 
received more than  $117 million in royalties in 2011, according to the 
Bureau of Indian Affairs. Individual tribal members who own mineral 
rights on their private land, or allotments, receive anywhere from 
hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars a month. That’s about 
two-thirds of the tribe’s total royalties.

Unemployment, now between six and seven percent, keeps dropping. 
Businesses are thriving. The Four Bears Casino is adding 160 rooms to 
its 97-room hotel and plans to offer ferryboat gambling on Lake 
Sakakawea, the Missouri River reservoir that runs through the reservation.

People who used to come to the tribal offices asking for help no longer 
do. “We appreciate the money that’s coming in and helping to improve 
incomes and the socioeconomic status of our members,” said Dennis Fox, 
the tribe’s CEO.

But, Fox added, despite all the oil money coming in from royalties and 
taxes, Three Affiliated Tribes is spending all of its new income—and 
then some --dealing with the oil production’s impacts.

In an interview at tribal headquarters, Fox offered a “but” for every 
positive impact of the oil rush. The tribe’s budget for special projects 
is now double its average yearly operating budget of between $40 and $50 
million, he said. But the tribe estimates that it will cost more than 
$100 million just to repair the reservation’s road system.

“It’s a matter of playing catch up,” he said. “We’re trying to beef up 
all of our infrastructure. Nobody anticipated the great influx of 
workers and the impact on the roads and housing and everything else.”

The tribal chairman, Tex Hall, regularly treks to Washington, D.C. to 
plead for road relief.  “I already receive almost daily calls telling me 
of serious accidents involving our members,” he told a Congressional 
appropriations subcommittee in April.

“In fact, we now have so many accidents on my reservation that my staff 
does not even both to call me unless the injuries are life-threatening. 
The situation has now gotten to be that bad.”

All over the Bakken lands of Western North Dakota, known as the oil 
patch, towns are going through many of the same challenges. Highways are 
getting pounded to dust, police, fire and social service departments are 
scrambling and housing is beyond hard to find.

In a way, history is repeating itself.  Cities and towns across the 
country have gone through similar upheavals for the sake of energy 
production and jobs, including the small towns of southwest West 
Virginia and eastern Kentucky during the heyday of coal.  That part of 
central Appalachia is still struggling to pick up after booms went bust.

Of course, North Dakota invited the oil companies. But the oil patch is 
like the high school wallflower who announces a backyard kegger on 
Facebook, only to find the entire student body has shown up. Before it 
gave oil drilling a go, North Dakota was the nation’s least-visited 
state. The once-overlooked, now overwhelmed oil patch never dreamed it 
would become the center of the biggest, messiest migration to one state 
since the California Gold Rush.

That it was unprepared for the deluge is painfully obvious. The oil 
patch looks like the aftermath of a natural disaster. There are long 
lines everywhere, from gas stations to taco trucks, store shelves look 
ransacked and forget about getting a hotel room within a hundred miles. 
Man camps, the makeshift encampments for oil workers, crop up overnight 
in fields where cows graze. So many newcomers crash at the Wal-Mart 
parking lot in Williston – at least 100 vehicles from all over the 
country every night – that it’s almost becoming a neighborhood.

And traffic in the patch is like traffic nowhere else, not even in the 
nation’s biggest cities. It can take 90 jaw-clenching minutes to drive 
30 miles. Pity the passenger car driver surrounded on every side by 
tankers, flatbeds and cement mixers. Everywhere you go, people are 
beleaguered and out of sorts.

Fort Berthold is suffering all the woes of the Bakken boomtowns, and 
many more.

The tribe is a federally recognized sovereign nation, which makes its 
challenges more complicated. North Dakota is creating a fund for road 
repairs and upgrades in the oil patch, for example, but, Fox said, the 
tribal nation is not eligible for the money.

Its biggest day-to-day problem is policing the reservation. Under 
Federal law, imposed by a 1978 Supreme Court ruling that has bedeviled 
Indian Country, tribal nations have no criminal jurisdiction over 

So while police calls on Fort Berthold have more than doubled, many of 
the calls involve newcomers who are not tribal members and who tribal 
police lack the power to arrest.

Crime is up all over the oil patch.  Police blotters in communities 
where a stolen bike was once noteworthy now list robberies, assaults, 
prostitution, drug trafficking and organized crime, not to mention many 
traffic accidents.

For a Fort Berthold tribal officer, answering a call can be a day’s 
work. The tribal force of 11 tribal officers patrols over 1,000 miles of 
road. Since the reservation includes about 150 miles of state highways 
and 660 miles of county roads, a tribal officer can call a sheriff’s 
department if an incident is on county land—the reservation includes 
parts of six counties—or they can call state police if the incident 
falls in their jurisdiction. Or they can call on federal officers, from 
the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Dept. of Homeland 
Security, if non-tribal members commit crimes that fall under those 
entities’ jurisdictions.

It was an inefficient and sometimes ineffective system before the oil 
boom.  Now, with law enforcement agencies all over the Bakken lands 
overburdened, there are not enough officers to handle every incident. 
The tribe is working with local and state law enforcement agencies and 
the Bureau of Indian Affairs to revamp its policing and develop a 
strategy to empower its force, such as cross-deputizing tribal police 
with sheriff’s departments.

What residents of Ft. Berthold say they miss most is their peace. Peace 
and quiet has always been Western North Dakota’s primary currency, the 
main answer hardy souls could pitch to those who might ask why anyone 
would live Way Out There. These days, long-time residents often complain 
that they no longer feel safe. They read stories in the papers, see 
warnings of registered sex offenders on community bulletin boards, bump 
into newcomers who don’t make eye contact.

It’s a culture shock on a reservation with five tight-knit villages, 
each with just hundreds of residents. People grow up here knowing which 
neighbor gets home when by the sound of their cars—the hum of a 4x4, 
say, or the putt-putt of an old Jeep.

Now, they hear rumors.  “It’s kind of scary,” said Loren Fox, as he sold 
$6 Indian tacos under a white tent by his family’s trailer in the rural 
community of Mandaree.

He kept his daughters, two and four years old, tucked by his side.

“Before there was no problem,” said the 41-year-old Fort Berthold 
native.  “But you hear stories—people coming around talking to kids and 

Loren Fox is torn between believing that oil is the best thing to happen 
to Fort Berthold and the worst. His cut from royalties he shares with a 
half dozen relatives for seven wells drilled on their land comes to 
about $2,000 a month. His wife receives between $400 and $900 a month 
for mineral rights her family holds on their ancestral land.

But Fox has lost three family members to car accidents with trucks in 
the last three years. He lost two nephews, 28- and 25 years old, within 
four months of each other, he said.  In June, he lost a 40-year-old 
cousin to a crash with a semi.

He also laments the loss of wildlife.  The tribe is canceling deer 
season this year for the first time.

“All the traffic,” Loren Fox said, “has scared the deer away, I guess.”

His guess is as good as anyone’s: no one is quite sure why the deer have 
disappeared. Of all the talk of all the problems in the oil patch, one 
barely hears a whisper about the possible environmental consequences of 
the fevered development.

Environmental advocates have been sounding the alarm on fracking for its 
potential to contaminate ground water, the amount of energy  it uses 
(hundreds of millions of gallons of water per well) and its possible 
disruption to the earth. It has been linked to earthquakes in Oklahoma, 
Texas and Great Britain.

Cities and towns in the oil patch have had a problem getting a handle on 
all the accidental oil and wastewater spills that occur. The Three 
Affiliated Tribes are also trying to stem the deliberate dumping of 
chemical-laden wastewater along roads or in remote areas of the rez.

Tribal police were getting so many calls from people spotting trucks 
dumping toxic fluids-- several each week, Dennis Fox said-- that in 
August 2011 it imposed fines of up to $1 million for a third deliberate 

Then there are the gas fires.

All over the Bakken lands, startling fires rise above the hayfields, 
spewing natural gas into the atmosphere. The fires, or flares, are a 
byproduct of oil production. When fracked gas is released, so is natural 
gas, but since natural gas is going begging on the worldwide market, and 
building the infrastructure to capture the gas would be expensive, 
companies just burn it. The fires spew over two million tons of carbon 
dioxide into the air each year, the equivalent of nearly 400,000 cars.

The World Bank, which has been campaigning for 10 years to get nations 
such as Russia, Nigeria, Iran and Iraq to stop flaring, now ranks the 
United States as the fifth worst offender thanks to North Dakota’s oil boom.

Neither North Dakota nor the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation have rules 
limiting flaring. But the tribe does plan to capture the wasted natural 
gas. In July, it received the final permit approval to build a crude oil 
refinery, the first to be built in the continental United States in over 
40 years.  The tribe also plans to build a pipeline to move oil – and 
gas—to the refinery.

What tribal leaders do not want are more regulations. The Obama 
administration has proposed requiring that oil companies disclose the 
chemicals they use in fracking, a move tribal leaders say would slow 
down oil production.

Tribal leaders are determined to make the most out of this oil boom, 
which they see as the ticket to independence from the federal 
government. They remember all too well how the tribe missed out on the 
last oil craze.

In the 1980s, when North Dakota experienced a smaller, more conventional 
oil boom, the tribe was virtually shut out. Oil companies skipped the 
reservation because the federal government, which administers Indian 
lands, required that oil companies go through dozens of steps, taking 
many months, before granting  permits. Outside the reservation, 
companies received permits within weeks.

To make sure they would not miss out this time, the tribe made two 
moves. It struck a deal with North Dakota to lower the taxes companies 
would pay the state and the tribe for leases on tribal land and it 
lobbied the Bureau of Indian Affairs to set up “one-stop shops” to 
streamline the permitting process.

Tribal leaders say they are looking out for their own interests, tired 
of history repeating itself.

Fort Berthold children learn early, in school and at home, that United 
States policies have betrayed the tribe again and again.  The U.S. 
government broke the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, which set the 
reservation’s borders, to seize millions of acres of reservation land to 
establish Montana and expand railroad lines.

Then, in the late 1940s, the federal government decided to damn the 
Missouri River to create hydroelectric power and Lake Sakakawea. The 
project flooded river bottomlands that the tribe had so assiduously 
cultivated and that provided its major source of income. Over one-fourth 
of the reservation’s total land base was inundated by water. By 1954, 
nearly 80 percent of the tribe had relocated and almost all of its crop 
and grazing land, 94 percent, was lost.

The reservation now comprises just under a million acres. Only about 
half of that is tribal land, either owned by the tribe or tribal members 
whose families received allotments under an 1887 federal act that sought 
to privatize Indian lands. The rest of the land is either privately 
owned, largely by those whose ancestors settled in the Plains when the 
federal government gave away “unclaimed” Indian lands to homesteaders 
(beginning with the first Homeststead Act, in 1862) or public land, as 
in national park land.

Tribal members lucky enough to have mineral rights on their allotments 
are reaping the oil rush’s bounty. But even some of those members feel 
cheated. After the first leases were signed, energy companies began to 
“flip,” or sublease, their leases, at huge profits, with the federal 
government’s approval but without the allotees’ permission. Since then, 
tribal landowners have organized their own associations to maximize 
their interests.

But not everyone is collecting royalty checks. A little over half of the 
tribal enrolled membership now receives oil checks. The rest: nothing. 
The new reality is creating a divide in the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara 
tribe between the haves and have-nots.

No one blames the have-nots for resenting the unmitigated upheaval 
they’re enduring while the haves buy new cars and take vacations. 
Allotees receiving oil checks have formed a development corporation to 
invest their money in ways that will benefit all tribal members. Tribal 
leaders say that at some point in the future, they plan to develop a 
fund to “share the wealth” with all tribal members.

Becky Deschamp, from the Prairie Winds Trailer Park, is one of the 
have-nots. Her mistrust of government, honed from both distant and 
recent history, now extends to the tribal government.  She is thrilled 
that the tribe found a place to house the evicted Prairie Winds families 
but wonders why it took so long.

These days she avoid Main Street unless absolutely necessary. Driving 
home still means running a gauntlet of road construction on Route 23, 
dubbed “suicide road.” But she’s philosophical about it: At least she 
still gets to overlook the meditative waters of Lake Sakakawea. If the 
sewer and water systems hold up, she said, “I may never leave my home 

Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari'
Member, National Writers Union AFL-CIO
(much social justice material)

"I Consider Myself a Real Red:"  The Social Thought of
American Civil Rights Organizer John R. (Salter) Hunter Gray
(from The Journal of Indigenous Thought (new material 9/12):

See the Stormy Adoption of an Indian Child [My Father]:
(Expanded and with more photos in June, 2012.)

For the new (11/2011) and expanded/updated
edition of my "Organizer's Book," JACKSON MISSISSIPPI --
with a new and substantial introduction by me.  We are now at
the 50th Anniversary of the Jackson Movement of
1962-63:  http://hunterbear.org/jackson.htm

And see Hunter Bear's extensive Movement Life Interview:

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