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Fracking Impacts First Nations: ND, Onandaga, Blackfeet, Wind River

May 6, 2012

“We were not even given a formal 30 day eviction notice and now that we have been kicked out of our home we are currently homeless,” said Heather Youngbird. To those who have been paying attention to Aqua America’s displacement of people living in Riverdale Mobile Home Park in Pennsylvania in order to build a water withdrawal facility to accelerate fracking in the Susquehanna River Basin, that sounds familiar. But tribal nations in the United States faced with multiple impacts from fracking have a much longer history of displacement and environmental injustice behind them. Here is a small sampling of the impacts on, questions arising from, and leadership arising within Indian Country where it intersects with shale country:

The Onondaga, a member nation of the Haudenosaunee Iroquois Confederacy and long leaders as healers of the environment, face a new threat: hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The technique, used for much of today’s natural gas extraction shoots chemicals mixed with sand and millions of gallons thousands of feet underground to break apart the rock, allowing more gas to escape and flow out of a well.

Complaints have soared as fracking has expanded across the country. “Every state where this is going on, people’s water is contaminated,” said Joseph Heath, general legal counsel to the Onondaga Nation…

“We’ve held them off for two years,” said Heath. The Onondaga, whose nation lies in upstate New York are part of a grass roots movement that helped convince New York’s state senate to put a moratorium on fracking until May 2012.

Heath said all the environmental issues involving fracking are a concern, but two specific issues are unique to the Onondaga.

Read the rest of Terri Hansen’s November 2010 article about the Onandaga Nation and fracking here. While the Onandaga have been leaders in resisting the fracking onslaught since 2008, impacts on other First Nations people, such as the Wind River reservation inWyoming, have been going on far longer. Other tribal residents are just beginning to be impacted.

A New York Times article on February 3, 2012 noted that the Wind River reservation, shared by Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes, already suffers from a life expectancy of 49. In addition, shale gas fracking by Encana has ruined the lives of many residents:

On one section of the reservation, people must boil drinking water because chemicals, possibly the result of the oil and natural gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, have contaminated the water supply. And fearing that the chemicals might explode in a home, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered residents to run fans and otherwise ensure ventilation while bathing or washing clothes.

Extreme energy extraction, including fracking for oil and gas, provides immediate cash to some cash-starved communities, leaving residents worried about long-term impacts while others are cruelly displaced. Below are two more examples.

In late November 2011, the Montana’s Great Falls Tribune published this article: “Blackfeet members concerned about contamination by injection drilling technique.”

Exploration companies are injecting large volumes of water, sand and chemicals into rock formations up to a mile beneath the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in attempts to loosen embedded oil – sometimes using more than a million gallons of fluid per well…

Jack Gladstone, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe and a well-known singer and songwriter, is worried that “fracking” could taint the tribe’s ‘clean, fresh, cold water.’ [Gladstone] supports more disclosure of the chemicals used in frack jobs, which he described as an ‘uncontrolled experiment…”

Locally, prominent residents of the reservation, where two dozen oil wells with names such as “Tribal Buffalo Jump” and “Tribal Sacred Pipe,” have been fracked since 2009, are beginning to raise concerns…

Keith Tatsey, chairman of the Natural Resources Department of Blackfeet Community College, said there are two views about tribal exploration among tribal members.

“For people in poverty, it’s good to help them,” he said. On the other hand, he said, some residents are concerned about how the development could affect streams and rivers, as well as wildlife habitat.

“In the long run, environmentally, it’s not good for the land,” Tatsey said.

The Great Falls Tribune archive appears to be unavailable but the full, long, interesting article is available here.

Finally, the Bakken shale oil boom in North Dakota has already displaced residents of a mobile home park, including two women whose landlord just removed the front door of their home and cut off their electricity two weeks ago, leaving them homeless. Pratap Chatterjee reported on April 27, 2012 in “North Dakota Shale Boom Displaces Tribal Residents“:

Heather Youngbird and Crystal Deegan used to live in a trailer at the Prairie Winds Mobile Home Park in the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Last week Leroy Olsen, their landlord, removed their front door and cut off the electricity and the propane supply. The reason? New homes to be constructed for out of town oil workers coming to take part in the shale exploration boom.

“This oil boom has divided the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara people and pitted them against each other in a negative way,” says Kandi Mossett, a tribal member and organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.

In 2010, WPX Energy of Oklahoma paid $925 million for the right to explore for oil on the 86,000 acres of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. The company plans to squeeze oil out of shale, the most abundant form of sedimentary rock. Until recently such exploration was prohibitively expensive, but with the evolution of technology and the rise in the price of oil, many rural communities from England to the Ukraine, from Argentina to North Dakota, have become targets for the shale oil boom.

Another company profiting from the Bakken boom, which has been described as the biggest oil find in North America in four decades with an estimated 4.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil, is Continental Resources, also from Oklahoma.

Billionaire Harold Hamm (est. worth $9B), CEO of Continental Resources, discusses his optimism about Bakken production here. Another CEO explains here why he’s so eager to push tribal people out of the mobile home park:

“Right now, anything that’s available that has water and sewer on it is very attractive to anybody that’s trying to continue to grow their business,” says John Reese, the CEO of the United Prairie Cooperative company, which has taken over the [Prairie Winds Mobile Home] trailer park.

“We were not even given a formal 30 day eviction notice and now that we have been kicked out of our home we are currently homeless,” said Heather Youngbird. The remaining residents of Prairie Winds Mobile Home Park have been told that they had to leave their trailers by May 1, but the eviction date has now been postponed until August 31.

More trouble is expected for the tribal community: Environmental groups note that residents may also soon see problems with their drinking water. “Information posted hydraulic fracturing fluid chemicals on the FracFocus web site indicates that Bakken Shale oil wells may contain toxic chemicals such as hydrotreated light distillate, methanol, ethylene glycol, 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE), phosphonium, tetrakis(hydroxymethyl)-sulfate (aka phosphonic acid),  acetic acid, ethanol, and napthlene,” writes EarthWorks, a Washington DC based group.

Then there is the air pollution: the oil companies are not even bothering to capture the natural gas that is generated by the drilling, partly because there are no state regulations to force them to and partly because it is expensive. Instead the gas is being “flared” or burnt off, the same way Shell does in the Niger delta with similar environmental consequences.

“Across western North Dakota, hundreds of fires rise above fields of wheat and sunflowers and bales of hay. At night, they illuminate the prairie skies like giant fireflies,” wrote Clifford Krauss in the New York Times last September. “Every day, more than 100 million cubic feet of natural gas is flared this way — enough energy to heat half a million homes for a day.”

Perhaps the greatest irony is that North Dakota has the greatest wind resource of almost any state in the country, says Mossett. She says that North Dakota could supply 1.2 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of annual electricity.

Pratap Chatterjee is the Senior Editor at, where this article originally appeared.

Read the full story here on

One Comment
  1. Fouchini Maartens permalink
    May 8, 2012 7:14 am

    I live in South Africa and is one of thousands fighting to keep the greedy, greedy Royal Dutch Shell out of our precious Karoo. South Africa on the whole is very, very water scarce, specially in the Karoo . We will fight then tooth and nail. We already took our ANC Govt. to court. Shell just sit and grin – the blood will flow !

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