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Tribe sues government over oil wells near Lake Sakakawea

August 23, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation is suing the U.S. Department of Interior in an attempt to block North Dakota oil wells that the tribe believes are threatening Lake Sakakawea.

The tribe is exhausting its appeals after the Bureau of Land Management approved the drilling of oil wells closer to the lake than tribal regulations allow, MHA Chairman Mark Fox told the Bismarck Tribune .

“We’re doing our best to battle and protect our land and our reservation,” Fox said Wednesday. “We have a lot to protect.”

Slawson Exploration Co. has completed drilling 12 oil wells by the lake near New Town and plans to begin hydraulic fracturing on Oct. 1, said Eric Sundberg, the company’s vice president of environmental and regulatory affairs. The tribe’s lawsuit doesn’t name the company.

The well pad threatens the lake, which is the tribe’s primary source of drinking water and a critical natural, cultural and recreational resource, according to the lawsuit. The tribe wants a federal judge to vacate a decision by the Department of Interior’s Office of Hearings and Appeals that affirmed the government’s approval of the drilling permits.

Slawson’s well pad was originally sited for 600 feet (183 meters) from the lake but was pushed back to about 800 feet (244 meters) during the regulatory review, according to Sundberg. The wells are more than 1,000 feet (305 meters) from the lake, he said.

The tribe also called The Three Affiliated Tribes requires oil wells to be drilled at least 1,000 feet from Lake Sakakawea to protect the water from a potential spill.

The company has argued in the past that tribal policies don’t apply to the well pad because the wells are on private land. Slawson also said the company is developing non-Native American oil and gas minerals underneath the lake.

But the tribe has maintained its laws apply to all oil development within the boundaries of the Fort Berthold Reservation.

“If there’s a contamination or impact to occur, it’s not going to just gravitate to only fee lands or only fee properties,” Fox said. “We’re all going to be impacted one way or another.”

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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