Environment | National

Al Jazeera: North Dakota's black gold rush a concern for tribe

"Far away from city lights, blackness easily moves across the sky as the sun sets over the plains of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota.

But across this wide expanse, a hazy deep orange pulsation is emerging and lighting up the land. It's the illumination of natural gas flares from the thousands of wells that are springing up across this part of the country.

The western half of North Dakota, as well as parts of Montana and Canada's Saskatchewan province, all sit atop the Bakken Shale Formation – an underground rock formation ripe with oil and natural gas.

This is what is driving North Dakota's oil boom and positioning it to become the nation's second leading oil producer, trailing only Texas.

The Bakken is estimated to have 3.65 billion barrels of oil and 148 million barrels of natural gas liquids – and some think even more than that lies below. As the conflict in Libya deepens and unrest spreads to Gulf nations, domestic sources of energy like the Bakken would seem an oasis for the US.

But the state's oil and natural gas industry is not just a part of the idea of relying less on foreign oil; it has created a land of opportunity, drawing people from deficit-ridden and jobless states and replenishing the local communities and businesses.

While the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes of Fort Berthold have welcomed the new prosperity, the boom has raised a debate not uncommon to communities caught in a resource rush. Will the oil frenzy will be a bane or a boon to them and future generations? It's also presented challenges unique to tribes in the US.

Right now, tribal chairman Tex Hall sees it as a gift, but views it with cautious optimism.

"It's in the spirit of our ancestors, they left us this land and these beautiful minerals that were in the middle of this oil plain," he says. "The oil and gas on Fort Berthold, it's a blessing and it's a curse. If we don't do it right and we let the oil run over us… it'll be a curse.""

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North Dakota's black gold rush (Al Jazeera 3/28)

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