April 19, 2012
Today, the Subcommittee on Indians and Alaska Native Affairs held an oversight hearing
on the “Bureau of Land Management’s Hydraulic Fracturing Rule’s Impact on Indian Tribal Energy Development.” Indian Tribal lands hold a significant amount of oil and natural gas that could help Tribes create jobs, spur economic development and help improve education, health and infrastructure. Unfortunately, many Tribes are concerned that they were left out of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) rulemaking process and that the current draft rule could greatly impede Tribes’ ability to develop their own energy resources.
In February, Subcommittee on Indians and Alaska Native Affairs Chairman Don Young (AK-At Large) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Dan Boren (OK-02) wrote a bipartisan letter to Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar expressing concern about the lack of Tribal consultation during the rule making process.
“While tribes were told they would have a seat at the table with federal agencies, the Bureau of Land Management excluded them from the process of drafting a rule with a potentially devastating impact on their sovereignty, and their economies. Tribes were not afforded an opportunity to provide input on, let alone the time to analyze, the draft rule,” said Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Chairman Don Young (AK-At large). “New jobs – especially year-round, high wage jobs available in the oil and gas industry – can and will have a dramatic effect on reducing unemployment and poverty on Indian reservations. But if the BLM rule goes into effect, kiss these tribal jobs good-bye. Thanks to the Department of the Interior, while non-Indian landowners will prosper, the tribes will lose. This would be nothing less than another breach of the United States’ trust responsibility to Indians.”
Many witnesses testified about BLM’s lack of consultation with Tribes during the rulemaking process, the importance of Tribal sovereignty and the rights of Indians to develop their own energy resources.
T.J. Show, Chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, began his testimony by noting the, “Blackfeet Tribe, like numerous other large land-based Tribes, suffers from an unemployment rate that reaches 70 to 80 percent” and that the Tribe has, “determined that development of the large pools of oil and natural gas… is the most viable option to improve the Reservation economy, to provide jobs to Tribal members, to provide necessary services on the Reservation, and to bring some measure of improvement to the standard of living of Blackfeet tribal members.” Unfortunately, Mr. Show said that the rule that BLM developed, “will create additional burdens to an already burdensome process that will likely delay and possibly prevent beneficial development of Blackfeet oil resources.” More importantly, Show said that, “BLM developed a rule that seriously impacts Indian Country energy development without regard to the consultation process.”
Irene Cuch, Chairwoman of the Ute Tribal Business Committee, testified that in writing the hydraulic fracturing rule BLM’s “actions do not uphold its obligations under the federal trust responsibility and do not fulfill the Department’s long-standing and ongoing commitment to consult with Indian tribes.” Cuch expressed concern about Tribal sovereignty saying that the BLM hydraulic fracturing rule, “incorrectly considers Indian lands to be public lands…Indian lands are not public lands. Indian lands are for the exclusive use and benefit of Indian tribes.” She concluded that, “additional delays that will be caused by the BLM’s fracing rule will have an astronomical economic impact on the Tribe.”
Tex G. Hall, Chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of the Fort Berthold Reservation, reminded the Subcommittee that, “Since energy development began on the Reservation we have struggled with the federal bureaucracy for every single oil and gas permit,” and that, “BLM’s proposed regulations may add so much delay, uncertainty and cost to the oil and gas permitting process that they may be forced to pull their drilling rigs off the Reservation.” Currently, Mr. Hall credits Tribal energy development for creatingd, “in excess of 10,000 jobs.” Finally, like many of the witnesses, Hall noted the lack of BLM consultation and that, “BLM’s actions to date have given me and other tribes the impression that tribal input is not desired or only minimally needed even though there is strong evidence that the proposed regulations will cost the MHA Nation and the surrounding community a sizable number of jobs and money.”
James M. “Mike” Olguin, Vice Chairman, Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council, explained that, “Added regulatory burdens to the development of tribal minerals discourage development on Indian lands and provide a direct incentive to operators to lease and drill on offsetting non-Indian lands because of the associated cost savings.” Olguin was surprised that the Tribes, “concept of meaningful consultation has been shortchanged by the BLM,” and that, “notwithstanding our requests and suggestions, BLM proceeded to develop draft proposed regulations in isolation…” Finally, Mr. Olguin expressed his concern that, “the steps being proposed by BLM to regulate hydraulic fracturing on our lands have been developed with little regard for practical considerations or the adverse financial impact that such regulations will have upon Indian tribes.”
Wilson Groen, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company, told the Subcommittee that, “A Federal rule relating to hydraulic fracturing will result in additional and extraordinary delays that could take the Interior Board of Land Appeals a year or more to decide.” Mr. Groen also said that he is, “reliably informed that a second draft rule has been developed but has not been circulated to any tribes.”