NEW TOWN – The U.S. Department of Interior has exempted the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation) from a temporary suspension of oil and gas leasing and permitting on federal and tribal lands recently signed by President Biden.
Mark Fox, tribal chairman, said he received a letter this week from Robert Anderson of the U.S. Department of Interior to clarify that the president’s order does not include – or exempts – lands owned by the tribe and individual tribal members.
Fox said the basic status for the tribe is it is not included in the order of suspending oil and gas leasing and permitting on their lands while the order is in place, Even if and when it is lifted, he said the tribe remains “where we have always been.”
Fort Berthold Reservation is a major producer of oil and gas in North Dakota.
According to recent figures from the N.D. Department of Mineral Resources released Jan. 15 with November 2020 numbers, the reservation produced a total of 299,785 barrels of oil and five rigs were actively drilling. The reservation had 2,515 active wells and 110 wells were waiting on completion. There also were 265 approved drilling permits. The reservation has a potential of 4,037 future wells.
Fox said they are pursuing with the federal government that federal public lands (i.e. lands for recreation, etc.) are not federal trust lands.
“Federal trust lands are held in trust for the benefit of tribes and tribal members,” he said. If trust assets are developed, he said the trustee needs to abide by that trust.
The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara (MHA) Nation depends heavily on oil and gas resources for its budget.
Fox said “more than 80-85 percent” of the tribe’s budget comes from oil and gas royalties and taxation. He said those funds are used for housing and many other programs and needs.
He also noted one school has been completed on the reservation – the White Shield School – and the Mandaree School is about 60 percent complete. Completion of the Mandaree School is expected to be next year. He said there are also plans to build a high school at Twin Buttes.
As for the recent shutdown of the Keystone XL Pipeline between Alberta, Canada and Nebraska, Fox said he is not anti-pipieline and that the pipelines are needed to get the products to market.
He said the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation plans to be there for a long time and when it comes to their energy development, he said, they need to “make sure we do it responsibly.” He said they firmly believe they can work with the Biden administration while being responsible and protecting their own lands.