Tim Giago: 'Drill baby drill' is coming soon to Indian Country

Notes from Indian Country
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© Unitysodak1@knology.net

The oil boom is coming to South Dakota, “Not if, but when,” according to those in the know, including Governor Dennis Daugaard.

The apprehension for the coming explosion is ambivalent. South Dakotans, including those Native Americans living on the Indian reservations that may be caught in the middle of the oil development companies and the protestors that are sure to come, are looking at what is happening in the Bakken oil boom in North Dakota.

According to an article by Talli Nauman, the Health and Environment Editor for Native Sun News, a Native American weekly newspaper based in Rapid City, “The volume of drilling applications in the Bakken shale formation ballooned 500 percent during the past five years, half of it on American Indian mineral estates. Since 2007 applications to drill on Fort Berthold, the home of the Three Affiliated Tribes, in the heart of the Bakken, have gone from 0 to 175. More than $3 million in drilling permit fees were collected in fiscal 2011.”

Tribal Chairman Tex Hall made a recent trip to Washington, D. C. in order to point out to the Congress the good and the bad of this sudden boom. The oil impact prompted Hall to ask Congress for housing to support a new health facility, funds to address the severe damage that oil and gas development has caused to the roads on the reservation. Hall said, “One of the problems is a total lack of available housing within 100 miles of our reservation. Even when housing does open up, two and three bedroom homes are now renting for in excess of $2,500 per month.”

Hall said that none of the roads on the reservation were built to handle the types of heavy equipment and heavy trucks used by the oil and gas companies. “Those roads have been almost totally destroyed by the oil and gas related traffic,” he said.

Several traffic accidents, including one that took the lives of five family members, were caused by the damage to the roads and to the heavy equipment using the roads. “I feel every day that I will get a call telling me that a school bus full of children had tipped over killing a number of students,” Hall said.

These are the things now under study by the State of South Dakota and the Indian reservations.

There was speculation that the area around the Badlands on the Pine Ridge Reservation would be a rich source of crude oil because it was a part of an inland sea millions of years ago and was the home to thousands of dinosaurs. But oil doesn’t come from dead dinosaurs, but from the remains of single celled creatures known as diatoms.

The USA uses 17 million barrels of oil every day. Petroleum accounts for nearly 40 percent of this Nation’s energy. It takes the equivalent of 7 gallons of gasoline per day for every man, woman and child to keep this country running at its current pace. And finally, according to the Department of Energy, the United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, yet consumes 26 percent of the world’s energy.

These are all frightening and appalling statistics. Oil is not a renewable resource and it is being used up faster than anyone could have foreseen 50 years ago.

South Dakota can expect to see many scientists and engineers conducting explorations for oil in the coming years. According to the DOE, “Crude oil is a smelly, yellow-to-black liquid and is usually found in underground areas called reservoirs. Scientists and engineers explore a chosen area by studying rock samples from the earth. Measurements are taken and if the site seems promising, drilling begins.”

There have been reports of drilling near one of the most sacred sites of the Lakota and other Indian tribes at Bear Butte. So far there have only been cursory protests from the Lakota.

“Drill baby drill” may be the mantra of both political parties as we draw closer to the 2012 presidential elections.

Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar unveiled accountability measures to aid oil and gas development on public and Indian trust lands in North and South Dakota and in other states. He said, “Interior is committed to expanding safe and responsible oil and gas development on public and Indian trust lands.”

Those Native Americans with long memories will recall the debacle brought to the Indians of Oklahoma when oil was king in that state. There is sure to be a battle between the traditionalists and the progressives when it comes to drilling for oil and natural gas on Indian reservation lands because there are still those Native Americans who value Mother Earth more than the almighty dollar.

A final warning from Chairman Hall, “If the federal government truly wants to see oil and gas development within the boundaries of the Unites States, it has to take responsibility for the damage that this type of production causes to its own federal roads and small communities like Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara.”

Greed is a mighty motivator so Indian nations with oil beneath the surface of their lands: Beware, because “drill baby drill” is coming your way.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born and educated on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was founder of the Native American Journalists Association and of Indian Country Today newspaper. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991.

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Tim Giago: Lakota views missing from Keystone XL debate (3/12)
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Tim Giago: Inspiring a new generation of Native Americans (2/27)
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Tim Giago: Rosebud constitution should be 'law of the land' (1/30)
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