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Native Americans Feel Left Out On Final Fracking Rules Development

Native Americans claim they were unable to add input in the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) negotiations on the final rules that will regulate hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of oil and gas operations on public lands. Absent this input, some of the tribal leaders claimed the rules could impede their ability to develop their energy resources.

The "concept of meaningful consultation has been shortchanged by the BLM," and that notwithstanding "our requests and suggestions, BLM proceeded to develop draft proposed regulations [on fracking] in isolation," said James M. Olguin, vice chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council, during a recent oversight hearing of the House Natural Resources' Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.

In February Subcommittee Chairman Don Young of Alaska sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar objecting to what he believed was the minor role that Native Americans were playing in crafting the federal rule.

"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," Olguin added.

T. J. Show, the head of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, said BLM developed a rule that "seriously impacts Indian country energy development without regard to the consultation process."

BLM's actions so far "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 [Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara] Nation and the surrounding community a sizable number of jobs and money," said MHA Chairman Tex G. Hall.

The agency's rules "do not fulfill the department's long-standing and ongoing commitment to consult with Indian tribes," agreed Irene Cuch, chairwoman of the Ute Tribal Business Committee.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, Salazar signaled that the department is close to completing final regulations that will govern fracking on public lands (see Shale Daily, April 25). "I can't give a specific time line, but we're pretty close. It will be soon. We're working on it," he said.

However, MHA's Hall warned that the fracking 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 reservations."

Wilson Groen, president of the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Co., said the fracking rules "will result in additional and extraordinary delays that could take the Interior Board of Land Appeals a year or more to decide."

Cuch said the "additional delays that will be caused by the BLM's fracking rule will have an astronomical economic impact on the tribe." She further pointed out that the BLM rule may "incorrectly consider Indian lands to be public lands...Indian lands are not public lands. Indian lands are for the exclusive use and benefit of Indian tribes."

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