MANDAREE, N.D. – A newly formed commission to regulate oil and gas activity for a segment of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation launched this week, but questions remain about how it will work with existing tribal agencies.
Hundreds of oilfield workers attended mandatory meetings in Mandaree Tuesday and Wednesday for the West Segment Regulatory Commission, a new group that aims to monitor and regulate businesses operating in the Mandaree area of the reservation.
Fort Berthold accounts for about 30 percent of North Dakota’s oil production, with much of it concentrated in the Mandaree area. That area also has experienced recent spills and environmental incidents, including the pipeline break a year ago that spilled 1 million gallons of brine near Lake Sakakawea.
The group is still developing its rules, but it aims to address issues related to environmental impacts from oil development as well as reduce drug trafficking, human trafficking and other crimes that have increased along with the jump in population.
Elton Spotted Eagle, the commission’s chief compliance officer, told attendees at a meeting this week that the goal is not to chase away companies, but to have more people monitoring the activity.
“We want to make sure we have our land for our children, our grandchildren,” said Spotted Eagle, who is one of six compliance officers. “We want to hang on dearly to what we have.”
The Three Affiliated Tribes Tribal Business Council approved the charter for the new nonprofit organization, but Chairman Mark Fox opposed it.
Fox said Wednesday he supports the intentions of the group and believes regulations ought to be strengthened to protect the land, but he thinks it should be the tribal government’s job to do that.
“My biggest concern is where does that put our other regulatory agencies?” Fox said. “I want to see how that plays out.”
The West Segment Regulatory Commission’s charter says it will work with state and tribal law enforcement and regulatory agencies.
Initially, all workers and companies that do business in the West Segment will need to register with the commission, get photo ID cards and radio-frequency identification tags to allow for vehicle tracking.
Vincent Wright, a truck driver who hauls water for the oil industry in the Mandaree area, was among the workers who filled out paperwork and got his photo taken for a new identification card this week. Wright said he didn’t have any objections to the new requirements.
“It’s for the safety of the people who live here and are going to be here,” Wright said.
Several who attended the meetings objected to the price of the vehicle monitoring system – about $1,400 – that will be required for every semi that operates in the West Segment.
Cameron Keluche, vice president of Native Resource Management, hired by the West Segment to develop the monitoring system, said the specific technology vendor was chosen because it will allow compliance officers to track illegal dumping. The commission will work in conjunction with other tribal agencies that will have access to the tracking information, Keluche said.
The group also says it will conduct background checks and drugs tests on workers, enforce safe driving rules, test soil and water quality and monitor development such as man camps.
Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said the industry group has been meeting with the West Segment and Tribal Business Council to seek clarification about the new commission. The industry is concerned about duplication of rules and additional fees piled on top of a regulatory process that already involves federal, state and tribal agencies, Ness said.
“We support the goal of increased safety but would rather see the tribal government allocate more resources to police, oversight and other existing regulatory authorities than create a new regulatory entity,” Ness said.