New North Dakota Pipeline Permit Rankles Tribes

WASHINGTON (CN) – Native Americans with an oil-rich reservation in North Dakota brought a federal complaint Wednesday to quash drilling permits that pose a threat to their drinking water.

Found in the heart of the Williston Basin, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation is home to the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations. Their land holds over a third of the state’s oil reserves and 20 percent of North Dakota’s daily oil production, according to the complaint they brought in Washington.

For the 15,000 people living on Fort Berthold, which has 455,000 acres of land, Lake Sakakawea is the primary source of drinking water.

Represented by attorneys at Fredericks Peebles & Morgan, the tribes note that the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Fish and Wildlife Service determined in 2014 that there must be a 1,000-foot setback for oil and gas development around Lake Sakakawea.

They say that this setback is being violated now by eight drilling permit applications approved this past March for Slawson Exploration Company. “Collectively, these eight wells comprise what is referred to as the Torpedo Project,” the complaint states, adding that the project is being built on the southern end of a peninsula that extends into the lake’s Van Hook Arm.

Despite the tribe’s 1,000-foot setback, however, the work would occur just 600 feet from Lake Sakakawea, according to the complaint.

“The site would include oil drilling, pumping, supporting infrastructure and facilities, truck traffic, and the construction of a 1 mile-long steel pipeline that will move produced oil and water to an existing 5-acre site hosting tank batteries,” the complaint continues.

Representatives for the tribal affairs at the Department of the Interior did not respond to a request for comment.

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