BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) – Regulators have given Hess Corp. the go-ahead to drill oil wells in the Killdeer Mountains area of western North Dakota provided the company protects the environment and safety of residents.
The plan drew opposition from landowners, American Indians, archaeologists and others who fear the drilling will harm the area's beauty and its historical and cultural significance.
Hess wants to drill five miles southwest of Medicine Hole, a site considered sacred by Native Americans, and near the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield Historic Site, where Sioux tribes fought Army soldiers in 1864.
Theodora Birdbear, of Mandaree, told the state Industrial Commission on Thursday that members of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation use the Killdeer Mountains for prayer and that the industrialization would affect the spiritual experience.
“It's kind of equivalent to having an oil well right beside your Catholic church,” she said.
State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said denying the request would leave in the ground 3.5 million barrels of oil worth about $250 million. Industrial Commission members also said they had a responsibility to private mineral owners who want to see the minerals developed in their lifetimes.
The Industrial Commission, which regulates the oil industry in the state, is made up of Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. They voted unanimously to approve the drilling under conditions to protect resources and minimize truck traffic.
“The Department of Mineral Resources' Oil and Gas Division has dedicated many hours looking at various development scenarios for well locations in order to minimize the potential impact on the landscape as well as any cultural impacts the well locations may have,” Helms said.