ND senator miffed over lack of tribal drilling
By MARY CLARE JALONICK 06.06.08, 2:12 PM ET
Sen. Byron Dorgan says "incompetence" at the Bureau of Indian Affairs is stalling energy development on tribal lands in North Dakota.
Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said Thursday that he wants Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to deal with the problem immediately.
The Interior Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Dorgan asked Kempthorne in a letter to meet with him on Capitol Hill to discuss the issue.
"The (bureau) is an ineffective mess that needs to be reorganized and re-energized," Dorgan wrote. "If that proves impossible then maybe it ought to be replaced with an organization that will take effective action to help improve the lives of American Indians."
Dorgan said the Fort Berthold reservation is missing out on an oil boom that is benefiting other parts of the state. The reservation in western North Dakota lies atop part of the Bakken shale rock formation, parts of which have demonstrated great promise recently for oil production.
There are 49 oil rigs operating on private lands to the north, south and west of the reservation but only one rig on tribal lands, according to Dorgan. He says this is because of bureaucratic red tape and understaffing at the bureau that make it impossible to accelerate development.
"The only thing stopping the Fort Berthold reservation from producing more domestic energy and taking full advantage of this great economic opportunity is the demonstrated incompetence of the BIA on this issue," Dorgan said.
He said an investigation by staff on the Indian Affairs panel concluded that production of energy at Fort Berthold has been slowed because the bureau office on the reservation is understaffed and because many leadership offices in Washington - including the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs - also are vacant.
The committee also said that the development of oil and gas on Indian lands is subject to a 49-step process for approval. That is compared to a four-step process on private lands, Dorgan said.
"Frankly, none of this makes any sense to me," Dorgan said. "You look at that agency and just shake your head and think, 'is anyone capable of shaking this place up to get the right result?'"
"I want immediate action to fix it," he said.
The U.S. Geological Survey recently estimated that up to 4.3 billion barrels of oil are recoverable from the Bakken shale beneath North Dakota and eastern Montana, using current drilling technology.
Marcus Wells Jr., chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold, said the tribes need to be independent and able to produce their own energy resources.
With Dorgan's support, "we can take care of many of our tribe's needs that have gone unmet by the federal government," he said.
(let's see the BIA is an agency or arm of Congress - so what does that tell you?)