Native Sun News: Oil development plan poses threat to Bear Butte

The following story was written and reported by Ernestine Chasing Hawk. All content © Native Sun News.

STURGIS, SOUTH DAKOTA — As encroachment of Sacred Mato Paha (Bear Butte) was being threatened by something much more ominous and damaging than bikers, boobs, and beer, no environmentalists or Native Americans seemed to notice.

When Arizona entrepreneur Jay Allen planned to build a biker bar near the base of Bear Butte called Sacred Ground and erect an 80 foot high statue of an Indian outside the bar, Indian activists and special interest groups came out in mass to protest.

However at a public hearing on Nov. 18, 2010 in Pierre when the South Dakota State Board of Minerals and Environment heard Nakota Energy LLC’s request to establish oil field near Bear Butte, no one was present to oppose the project.

The Littleton, Colorado based company made application to drill on a 960 track owned by Mark and Janeen Norstegaard, just one and a half miles west of Bear Butte.

According to Kim Smith of the SD Department of Environment and Natural Resources Nakota Energy, LLC, filed the petition on Sept. 3, 2010 to establish a field for the production of oil and gas to be known as the Gullickson Field, in Meade County. DENR staff reviewed the petition and determined that in accordance with SD state law, a public hearing was required.

The hearing date and place was set for November 18 in Pierre at 10:15 a.m. at the Matthew Environmental Education and Training Center. The notice was published in the Oct. 6 and Oct. 13 editions of the Pierre Capitol Journal, the Oct. 13 and Oct. 20 editions of the Meade County Times Tribune and the Oct. 6 and Oct. 13 editions of the Rapid City Journal. It was not published in any Native American newspapers.

The petition and NOPH were also sent to persons on their mailing and email lists, and posted on their web site. The deadline for a formal intervention was Nov. 2, 2010 and no one petitioned to intervene.

A public hearing was held in Pierre, on Nov. 18, 2010 where Nakota presented testimony and exhibits. DENR staff also testified as to the NOPH dates, publication, and other notices to the public. After discussion, and hearing testimony from local mineral owners, the board unanimously voted to approve the petition. No one was present to oppose the project.

On Dec. 8, 2010 Nakota submitted a permit to drill (APD) the Nakota-Norstegaard well which was reviewed by DENR staff to ensure the proposed well siting and drilling was in accordance with all state statutes and rules.

On Dec. 22, 2010 a drilling permit was issued signed by Fred Steez, Oil and Gas Supervisor for the Dept. of Natural Resources in Rapid City.

Mato Paha a sacred place of prayer
The protection of Mato Paha as a significant religious site of the same magnitude as the Vatican or Mecca has been an ongoing concern for many Native American Rights groups. However nothing on the application would indicate that drilling was near Bear Butte.

It seems that it was not until an AP article published on Nov. 19, the day after the application was approved that interest groups became aware of the threat against this sacred place of prayer. According to Anthony Petres, president of the Inyan Kara Group in Rapid City the geologist firm that developed the project and sold it Nakota Energy, drilling for oil near Bear Butte did not seem to generate much interest in the past.

“From my information on it there have been a total of three wells drilled out there since 1997, in the same section, in the same part of the world. I know that those wells didn’t generate any kind of interest from anybody or from any group,” Petras said.

“So I guess the assumption was we didn’t think that was an issue because nothing had been done previously. When we sat down and looked at this, had we known that it would generate a firestorm of controversy, sure that would have influenced our decision on where to put it,” he continued. “But as it was, there was no controversy.”

He said that once Inyan Kara sold the prospect to Nakota Energy, it became their prospect and became their responsibility to take the necessary steps for an application to drill. When Nakota Energy was permitted and they had gone through the same process of giving public notice that any company that applies for a permit to drill would have had to have gone through.

“There is a period when any citizen in the state can make a comment on it and the regulators have to take that into consideration,” he said. “That process is part and parcel to every permit that is issued as far as I understand it.”

State Historical Society intervenes
However it appears that Nakota Energy had not complied with all the necessary steps to commence drilling near Bear Butte and until they do, the project is on hold.

Jay Vogt of the SD State Historical Society said that because Bear Butte is a National Historic Landmark and has the highest designation for historic property in the United States, Nakota Energy should have taken this into consideration during their planning phase of the Gullickson Project.

“State law requires that any property listed in the National Registry of Historic places be taken into consideration as they are doing their planning for these types of projects,” Vogt said.

He said that South Dakota has 15 National Historic Landmarks and that Bear Butte is well known as a sacred site to American Indians in South Dakota and the region.

“What they needed to do is to take that into account. We would typically hear from them during the planning phase of the project,” Vogt said and that Nakota Energy had failed to contact them prior to filing the application to drill.

“Basically they failed to comply with this section of state law. Our advice back to them is this is what we think you should do at the minimum to start your planning process to accommodate this state law," Vogt said.

He said the concern is that the well sites are visible from the top of Bear Butte where many people go to pray.

“If you were on Bear Butte you would be able to see these wells from the Butte itself. Where our concern is that may have an effect on the Bear Butte Historic Landmark,” he said.

The next step in the process is for Nakota Energy to come back to the Historical Society with a plan on how they are going to mitigate any potential harm to the landmark.

“The ball is in their court right now. We have contacted the Department of Natural Resources and told them what needs to be done for us. Once we get the information sent to us and it is complete information, then we have a thirty day period of time to respond,” he said.

The State Historical Society has requested an archeological survey of the well sites and the infrastructure including roads coming to and from the site.

They have also requested a public meeting where groups and individuals will have the opportunity to voice their concerns about how drilling may impact the historical landmark.

He said that at this point Nakota Energy can take all the time they want but until they comply with the state law regarding Historic Landmarks, the project is at a standstill.

“We cannot stop the project completely, but we can certainly make them pause and think about the impact on the historic site,” Vogt said.

Contact Ernestine Chasing Hawk at:

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