2018-02-14 / Top News

Wyoming oil drilling could impact local tribes

By James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today

A new oil and gas project in Converse County, Wyo., would develop 5,000 new wells over 1.5 million acres of private, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and state land. A new oil and gas project in Converse County, Wyo., would develop 5,000 new wells over 1.5 million acres of private, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and state land. CONVERSE COUNTY, WY— Officials of thirteen involved tribes, have until March, 12, 2018, to set up consultation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), concerning an oil and gas project that would develop 5,000 new wells over 1.5 million acres of private, forest service, Bureau of Land Management, and state land in Converse County. Ninety percent of the land is privately owned, and the rest is managed by the BLM. No reservations are within the projected development area.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) applies, which requires consultation with impacted Indian tribes whenever artifacts that may be of tribal origin are found at or near development sites. There are 171 Tribal Historic Preservation Officers nationwide, or THPOs, and the following 15 tribes have been identified in the BLM’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has being potentially impacted by the new energy project, and have been repeatedly notified of such, and that they need to establish a consultation process with BLM.

These tribes are: Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Crow Tribe, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Wind River Eastern Shoshone Tribe, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Northern Arapaho Tribe, Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Yankton Sioux Tribe, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, and Spirit Lake Tribe.

According to the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation

Officers, these are the current THPOs for our area reservations: Pine Ridge: Trina Lone Hill; Cheyenne River, Steven Vance; Crow Creek, Bonnie St. John McGhee; Flandreau, Garrie Kills a Hundred; Rosebud, Russell Eagle Bear; Sisseton-Wahpeton, Dianne Desroriers, Yankton, Kip Spotted Eagle, and Standing Rock, John Eagle.

BLM records indicate, starting in 2014, these THPOs, or their predecessors, were repeatedly notified of the project, the scope of the project, and the Section 106 NHPA process to set up tribal consultation and ostensible input.

It is assumed these THPOs informed their tribal officials, but this information was lightly disseminated by councils to tribal members, if at all, only one tribe asking to to be kept in the loop by BLM, Cheyenne River.

The negative impact to tribes takes many different forms. One, wildlife populations can be adversely impacted, in this case, primarily sage grouse and pronghorn, although pronghorn have been impacted by energy exploration for decades, and their numbers are not in decline. It is impossible to estimate the exact destruction to tribal artifacts, remains and sacred sites, but it is reasonable to assume, given the time and opportunity, historic peoples left a considerable imprint on the land. The EIS should also cover the impact on air quality. Wind Cave reports days of hazardous pollutants in air quality, possibly generated by past Wyoming energy development. Concerns over how this air quality would impact Pine Ridge to the east would be part of the consultation.

The last impact, and the one of greatest concern, is the impact on water quality. The Cheyenne River watershed curls around the base of the Black Hills, forming the northern border of the Pine Ridge Reservation, and eventually, the southern border of the Cheyenne River Reservation, and the Cheyenne River reaches the Missouri River, and would impact Crow Creek and Lower Brule.

The energy companies involved in the project are: Chesapeake Energy, SM Energy, Anadarko Resources, Devon Energy, and EOG Resources. They jointly filed a notice of intent in 2014 to open up petroleum and natural gas reserves in eastern Wyoming. The BLM estimates the project will create 8000 jobs.

Jill Morrison, of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowner advocacy group based in Sheridan, told the media: “I don’t think we’ve seen this scale of drilling. It’s going to be a new, big scale on the landscape. If they don’t do it with a lot of care, it’s going to have some very longterm impacts.”

Non-tribal environmental concerns would chiefly include impacts on grazing and natural products, like wood from timber.

Spokespeople for the energy companies are keen to stress they have met all NHPOs guidelines, and are eager to supply input in tribal consultations. Wyoming State Sen. Brian Boner of Douglas, said his constituents were concerned about negative impact to tribal interests, but were more concerned how the NHPO process is hindering or stopping energy development in eastern Wyoming.

“If a project intersects with federal minerals, private land then falls under federal rules,” Boner explains. “My constituents are not comfortable having their private resources federalized. There have also been a number of misconceptions about the policy and between landowners and BLM employees. If an entry-level archeologist sees a potential Native American site, there have been cases they say production has to be shut down because that site affects 20 miles in either direction.”

“Part of that problem is that the archeologist doesn’t understand that they can make a recommendation but, ultimately, it’s the BLM field office manager who makes the decision,” Boner continues. “We have had opportunities to facilitate conversations between oil and gas companies, landowners, BLM and others to make sure miscommunications like that are kept to a minimum.”

Boner continues, “If we weren’t concerned with preserving these resources, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We appreciate their perspectives, and I think we have more in common than anyone realizes.”

But Boner stressed current NHPO policy is outdated, and that technological improvements “over the past ten years” have rendered the type of impacts NHPO frets over, far less likely to impact.

Public comment on the projected energy development in Commerce County is open until March 12. Tribes have until then to organize their input into the BLM’s final determinations.

(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at

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