Obama May Get Earful On Fracking And Keystone While In North Dakota


As I noted yesterday, President Barack Obama won’t be in North Dakota very long today. From Air Force One’s touchdown in Bismarck to wheels-up on departure (the President is heading to California after his visit here) it’s a grand total of 3 hours and 40 minutes.

Like it or not, President Obama’s visit to North Dakota isn’t so much about talking to North Dakotans as it’s about using the Standing Rock Reservation as window dressing for a speech to the rest of the nation.

Still, at least one tribal leader would like to use the President’s visit to the state to advocate for less federal regulation of energy development on tribal land, something I wrote about over at Watchdog.org today:

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.

I don’t think President Obama wants to talk about energy while here in North Dakota. Last year he turned down an offer from Rep. Kevin Cramer to visit the state’s oil fields, and according to all the press materials I’m being sent from the White House on this visit, Obama hopes to focus on education and economic issues specific to the reservations.

Though, given the impact oil development has had at Fort Berthold, you’d think that more tribal control of energy issues really is an economic issue.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp, meanwhile, will get much more time with President Obama than Chairman Hall could hope to get. She’ll be flying with the President from Washington DC to North Dakota and plans to use the trip to press him on the Keystone XL pipeline issue.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is set to vote on a bill to approve the Keystone pipeline next week. A previous bill had failed to reach the Senate floor.