BISMARCK, N.D. — The North Dakota Industrial Commission unanimously approved late Thursday a plan to drill for oil in an area of the Killdeer Mountains that received widespread opposition, but added several stipulations to address some of the concerns.
Denying a request from Hess Corp. to drill up to eight wells in the Killdeer Mountains would leave 3.5 million barrels of oil in the ground and waste $250 million, said Lynn Helms, director for the Department of Mineral Resources.
But landowners, American Indians, archaeologists and others who attended the commission’s meeting Thursday said the state should also consider the value of the area’s beauty and historical and cultural significance.
The Industrial Commission, which consists of Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, discussed the matter for more than two hours Thursday in a meeting attended by about 50 people. They invited public comment even though it was not a public hearing.
Commissioners said they wanted to take the matter under advisement and continued the rest of their agenda from the governor’s conference room, acting on the proposal hours later after members of the public had left.
Dalrymple said after their meeting had adjourned that commissioners needed to get to other items on the long agenda so individuals involved in those matters could get home. Members of the public could have stayed if they wished, Dalrymple said.
Rob Sand, a member of the Killdeer Mountain Alliance who was among the people who spoke during the meeting, said he was disappointed by the outcome.
“There was a lot that we offered that they apparently chose not to consider.”
Sand said he was grateful commissioners heard public comments, but he was surprised they didn’t act on the proposal in front of the interested parties if they knew how they were going to vote.
Among those who spoke during the meeting was Theodora Birdbear of Mandaree who said members of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation use the Killdeer Mountains as an area for prayer and the industrialization of the area would affect the spiritual experience.
“It’s kind of equivalent to having an oil well right beside your Catholic church. It’s parallel to that,” she said.
Several urged the Industrial Commission to delay oil development in the area until technology advancements can allow companies to drill from farther away or until an archaeological study can be completed. The site is about 3 miles from the historical marker for the Battle of Killdeer Mountain and an archaeologist plans to study the area as soon as this year.
But commission members said they also have a constitutional responsibility to mineral owners who would want to see the minerals developed in their lifetimes. Because the section of land is owned by the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands, there also is an obligation to develop the minerals for the benefit of K-12 education, commission members said.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to keep that feeling and at the same time be responsible to our school children and the other people that also have rights here,” Dalrymple said.
The commission approved the request with these stipulations:
- Hess would provide seven-day notice to the State Historical Society prior to site construction so an independent archaeologist could be on site during construction.
- One pad location that contained a known artifact would be constructed with fill material so no excavation would be needed in an effort to preserve potential artifacts. Helms estimates this would cost Hess an additional $200,000.
- Hydraulic fracturing could only occur between June 1 and Aug. 15 to minimize truck traffic on a school bus route, which was another concern raised by opponents.
- Hess will eliminate flaring of natural gas as much as possible. Helms said Hess plans to have a system of pipelines to gather crude and natural gas to make flaring minimal and reduce truck traffic.
In addition, Hess will be asked to work with landowner Loren Jepson to develop access to the wells that would minimize impact to residents, Dalrymple said.
During the meeting, Stenehjem said the decision is part of a larger issue he’d like the commission to discuss about how certain areas of the state may be protected.
“They love their area and who can blame them. It’s a gorgeous area,” he said. “I think that’s a bigger issue we need to talk about.”