June 6, 2008

Dorgan Says BIA Incompetence is Obstacle to Energy Development on Tribal Lands

U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, today issued a report critical of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) detailing obstacles to energy development on the Fort Berthold Reservation in western North Dakota. He has also requested an urgent meeting with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to fix the problem.
There is oil production to the north, west, and south of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, but only one well is being drilled on the reservation. Dorgan says Fort Berthold’s location on top of the Bakken Oil Shale Formation, which has estimated reserves of nearly four billion barrels of oil, means that the tribal land could be producing more energy for our nation, but bureaucratic mismanagement, BIA vacancies, and out-dated regulations at key government agencies are preventing Native Americans from benefitting from oil development.
“The only thing stopping the Fort Berthold Reservation from producing more domestic energy and taking full advantage of this great economic opportunity is the demonstrated incompetence of the BIA on this issue,” said Dorgan. “Through this investigation and hearings I have chaired, it has become clear that the Interior Department and the BIA are not only asleep at the wheel when it comes to producing energy on tribal lands, but they have no plan to fix the problems that exist.”
The report issued today by Dorgan’s Indian Affairs Committee on oil and gas development delays on the Fort Berthold Reservation uncovered three major areas that are slowing the production of energy resources at Fort Berthold: The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) Fort Berthold Agency Office is understaffed to manage federal requirements and the level of interest in oil and gas development, and the BIA has refused to fix the problem; Oil and gas development on Indian lands is subject to an extensive 49 step process that is designed to slow down approval, and; In this Administration, leadership positions in the BIA are mostly vacant and lack consistent leadership. A full copy of the report is enclosed.
Lack of Sufficient Realty Staff
The report found that the BIA’s Fort Berthold Agency Office was dramatically understaffed to manage the level of interest in developing oil and gas resources. The report found that the Fort Berthold Agency Office had only three staff dedicated to oil and gas development in its realty office, and at times had only one staff dedicated to oil and gas development. Reservations similar in size to Fort Berthold but with less complex leasing activity have realty offices with as many as 17 staff.
Extra Federal Requirements
The report also found that nearly 1,500 leases and agreements have been approved on Indian trust lands, but only one permit has been issued resulting in active drilling – and that well was filed in 2005. One significant reason for this delay is the many extra steps needed to obtain a lease and permit on Indian trust land. Dorgan’s report found that to obtain a lease and permit on trust land, the BIA and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) follow a 49 step process to comply with applicable laws. This compares to a four step lease and permit process to drill on private lands within North Dakota.
Vacant Leadership Positions
Vacancies in key leadership positions in the BIA have led to neglect when it comes to oil and gas development in Indian Country. The Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs position, which is currently vacant, has been filled three times during this administration. At one point, the position was vacant for two years. The Great Plains Regional Office has been without a Director since May of 2007, and the Fort Berthold Agency Office was without a Superintendent for at least two years from 2005.
Dorgan called today for a meeting with Interior Secretary Kempthorne and tribal leaders from North Dakota in his office to determine how the BIA plans to fix these problems affecting Fort Berthold.
Dorgan has been pushing to secure more full-time permanent staff at the Fort Berthold Agency Office to help meet the demands of the increased energy work, and is appalled at the lack of action in the BIA.
“Because of rising energy costs and improved technology, western North Dakota is experiencing great opportunities to produce energy, and it is an outrage that the Fort Berthold Reservation is being left behind because of an incompetent bureaucracy,” said Dorgan.
“Ineffective management at the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation cannot be allowed to continue. It is harming local, tribal and state economies, as well as our national efforts to produce more domestic sources of energy,” wrote Dorgan to Secretary Kempthorne. “I want immediate action to fix it.”
The full letter to Secretary Kempthorne and a White Paper containing additional information on Fort Berthold Oil and Gas is attached.
Letter to Secretary Kempthorne
Fort Berthold Oil and Gas White Paper