Tribal Leader Granted Rights to Build Refinery Is Outspoken Critic of Hydrofracking Regulations

By Penny Starr | December 7, 2012 | 4:28 PM EST

Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, goes through papers as he makes a presentation on Friday, Feb. 4, 2011, to the North Dakota Senate's Natural Resources Committee on legislation that would give the tribe a larger share of oil tax revenues generated from oil production on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. (AP Photo/Dale Wetzel)

( – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar touted the approval of a new oil and gas refinery on the Fort Berthold Reservation located on the shale-oil-rich Bakken Formation area of North Dakota as an important accomplishment of the Obama administration.

“Today’s historic decision is another step forward in the Obama Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy and commitment to strengthen Tribal communities and generate jobs for rural America,” Salazar said when the approval was announced in October.

But the efforts to build the refinery date back to 2003 when the Three Affiliated Tribes of the reservation applied to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval. The chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara (MHA) Nation has been an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s efforts to regulate energy production on Indian lands, including the shale-oil harvesting process of hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracking.

“After six years of trying, a proposed tribally-owned oil refinery on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation may be getting closer to reality,” the North Dakota Business Watch reported in January 2010.

In March 2012, Tex Hall, chairman of MHA Nation, testified before the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies on the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed regulations on hydrofracking, including on Indian reservations.

"MHA (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara) and every other oil and gas tribe in the country was shocked to learn that the BLM is planning to implement new requirements for oil and gas-related fracturing activities on our reservations, especially in light of the fact that the BLM currently has no staffing for this new activity, no standardized process and no proposed system for processing and approving these plans,” Hall told the subcommittee.

“This is exactly the type of federal mismanagement of oil and gas resources that tribes have been complaining about for at least the last four years,” he added.

In his prepared testimony, Hall called the rule “misguided” and said it violated President Barack Obama’s Executive Order 13175, which states that Indian tribes should be consulted if a federal agency is “going to propose a rule that potentially has an effect either negative or whatever on a tribe.”

In July, Hall testified before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on “Impacts of Environmental Changes on Treaty Rights, Traditional Lifestyles, and Tribal Homelands.”

Hall said the tribes are still recovering from flooding on the reservation caused by a federal water project in the 1940s and that now the government is not fulfilling its duties to the tribes and is limiting development of tribal resources.

“The best example of this is the MHA Nation’s efforts to rebuild its economy with the energy resources located on our reservation,” Hall said. “In these times, our most abundant economic resources come from the Bakken Shale Formation underlying the reservation.”

Hall said in the past four years oil and gas production on the reservation has gone from “zero producing wells to almost 300,” adding that it is hoped that 300 more wells will be drilled in 2013.

And, Hall said, developing energy resources is creating jobs.

“The MHA Nation and other Great Plains Tribes often face unemployment above 70 percent,” Hall said. “These days our unemployment is at an all-time low of six or seven percent. In much of Indian Country unemployment levels that low are unheard of.

“More importantly, many of our members have become entrepreneurs, establishing their own businesses to support the oil and gas industry and hiring and supporting both tribal members and nonmembers alike,” Hall said.

In its announcement, the DOI said the 13,000-barrel-a day refinery would be on 190 acres of a 469-piece of a land trust. The remaining acreage would be used for the tribes’ buffalo herds.