Obama may get an earful on energy issues during ND visit


By Rob Port | Watchdog.org North Dakota Bureau

TRIBAL CONTROL: Tex Hall, the Chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, wants to use a Presidential visit to Indian Country in North Dakota to press Obama on allowing more tribal control over energy development on reservation land. Hall’s tribe has seen a windfall from booming production in North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields.

CANNON BALL, N.D. — When President Obama makes a rare visit to North Dakota, and an even rarer visit to Indian country, one tribal leader hopes to use the occasion to push for looser federal regulation of energy development on tribal lands.

The president, along with first lady Michelle Obama, will visit the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, where unemployment rates are nearly 80 percent. But on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, just to the west, the unemployment rate is less than 2 percent and tribal leadership wants looser regulations for the energy development that has brought prosperity to their community.

Fort Berthold is responsible for about 30 percent of North Dakota’s total oil output. Were the reservation its own state it would be the seventh largest oil-producing state in the nation.

But according to Tex Hall, tribal chairman for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, which makes Fort Berthold home, federal restrictions on oil development on federal land held his tribe back in the early stages of the state’s oil boom.

Hall wants Obama to allow tribes more latitude in regulating oil and gas development.

“To me that’s part of self-determination: Let the tribes themselves develop their own regulations and their own rules and laws and support us so we can develop this economy without slowing it down because of bureaucratic red tape,” Hall told the Forum News Service.

Oil and gas development has been a major boon for Hall’s tribe. In addition to low unemployment rates, at the end of 2013 the tribe there was taking in about $40 million per month in oil tax revenue. In 2012, the tribe spoke out against efforts by the federal Bureau of Land Management to institute fracking regulations, questioning that federal agency’s authority to regulate energy development on tribal lands.

With the president’s visit expected to last fewer than four hours — from Air Force One’s touchdown in Bismarck to departure — it’s unclear how much time Hall and other tribal leaders will have with Obama. North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, will have more of an opportunity to press Obama on energy issues. According to media reports, she plans to use the flight from Washington, D.C., to North Dakota to press the president on the Keystone XL pipeline issue.

Last year Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Republican and North Dakota’s at-large member of the U.S. House, invited Obama to visit North Dakota’s oil fields, but the pesident declined, citing scheduling issues.

You can reach Rob Port at rport@watchdog.org