Blackfeet women join together to oppose oil, gas 'fracking'

2012-06-30T12:15:00Z 2014-10-03T14:27:16Z Blackfeet women join together to oppose oil, gas 'fracking'By TRISTAN SCOTT of the Missoulian missoulian.com
June 30, 2012 12:15 pm  • 

BROWNING – On a recent flight over Divide Mountain, a snow-marbled peak that straddles the border between the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and Glacier National Park, Lori New Breast crossed her fingers.

New Breast is an enrolled tribal member and the co-founder of Blackfeet Women Against Fracking, a coalition of women opposed to the rampant oil and gas exploration occurring on reservation lands. She is worried that the rolling foothills intersecting the Rocky Mountain Front could soon be bristling with oil wells, and that a trove of cultural and natural resources will be dramatically and permanently altered in the process.

Dozens of exploratory well pads already checker the landscape and proposals for others continue to stack up in the offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, including one at the base of Divide Mountain.

“The oil companies have pretty much had carte blanche access to our land, but there hasn’t been any free flow of information to those of us with a strong connection to the land,” she said. “People are signing away their leases and they don’t understand the consequences.”

Virtually all of the Blackfeet Reservation’s 1.5 million acres are leased for oil and gas exploration, and there has been renewed interest in development on a tract of land directly adjacent to Glacier National Park’s eastern border.

This week, New Breast had the opportunity to view the mountainous landscape from an altitude of 1,000 feet, courtesy of pilot Bruce Gordon, who runs a nonprofit outfit called EcoFlight in an effort to raise awareness about threatened lands.

“I’m so grateful to have this perspective of our indigenous homelands,” she said.

Blackfeet Women Against Fracking is one of several small, grassroots groups that have emerged recently as awareness of the energy development and potential environmental consequences builds. Opponents of the development worry that if the exploration continues unchecked, the hydraulically fractured oil wells and flare stacks could contaminate a pristine ecosystem and disturb centuries-old cultural sites.

***

Earlier this week, New Breast drove over Logan Pass with her aging mother. Again, her fingers were crossed.

“When we came down the pass I was tearing up because I don’t want that to be my mother’s last chance to see our homeland in that condition,” she said. “To see the beauty of the waterfalls and mountain-fed waters, I want to do everything I can to see that it stays that way.”

To draw attention to the oil and gas dilemma, New Breast and members of Blackfeet Women Against Fracking have organized a 100-mile “water walk” from Chief Mountain to Heart Butte Summit, a trek they’ll commence on Aug. 6.

New Breast’s gravest concern is that the exploratory wells involve hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a controversial extraction process in which a mixture of chemicals and millions of gallons of water are forced into underground rock formations at high pressure. By breaking the rock into cracks and fissures, the process creates pathways to draw out the oil and gas deposits contained within.

As much as 70 percent of the chemicals used in fracking cannot be recovered and remain underground, where they can contaminate local water sources.

“We hope to bring awareness that our water is at stake due to the fracking, and that our waterways could be poisoned,” said Pauline Matt, who helped start Blackfeet Women Against Fracking out of her home near Browning.

Allowing the fracking to take place is a 2006 resolution by the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council to lease land along the western edge of the reservation for oil and gas exploration.

The resolution allows the Denver-based Anschutz Exploration Corp. to drill exploratory wells on a 400,000-acre tract of reservation land which abuts Glacier Park’s eastern boundary.

***

But along with the shifting geographic landscape comes a changing political landscape, and this week’s tribal council elections saw four incumbents defeated and four newcomers elected to the tribe’s most powerful governing body.

Among those who lost their council seats is Blackfeet Tribal Business Council chairman Terry J. “T.J.” Show, who has been a strong supporter of oil and gas exploration on the reservation. Earlier this year, he opposed a proposal by the Bureau of Land Management to adopt new rules that would regulate fracking, including requiring oil and gas companies to conduct baseline water quality tests.

Testifying before the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs in April, Show said the rules would “create additional burdens to an already burdensome process that will likely delay and possibly prevent beneficial development of Blackfeet oil resources.”

Show also noted that the Blackfeet Tribe suffers from an unemployment rate that hovers between 70 percent and 80 percent, and producing wells would be a financial windfall to the tribe.

He said 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.”

Show did not return phone calls seeking comment on the election.

The newly elected council chair, Cheryl Lynn “Katooisaki” Little Dog, said she does not view the shifting leadership as a referendum on energy development as much as a statement from tribal members that they want change and improved communication between the council and the tribe.

“I think what the people really wanted to see was a change in our governing body because there is a lot of corruption and conflict going on,” Little Dog said. “That’s why I ran, and that’s why my people voted me in, to give them a voice. I do have a backbone and I will stand up for my people.”

Little Dog said she will work to ensure that cultural sites and natural resources are afforded the protections that tribal members deserve.

“The environmental and cultural aspects need to be looked into because we have sites that these companies aren’t aware of and don’t have any respect for,” she said.

Part of the problem, New Breast said, is the approach Anschutz is using to conduct environmental assessments, which occur at individual well sites without taking into account the cumulative impact.

“There is no comprehensive assessment,” she said. “The well-by-well approach doesn’t take into account the overall impact to these resources.”

She hopes the new leadership brings changes to the tribe’s approach to energy development.

“The council has kind of rolled over the reservation and tribal members haven’t had any knowledge of what is happening,” she said. “That needs to change.”

Flathead Valley Bureau reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at (406) 730-1067 or at tscott@missoulian.com.

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(19) Comments

  1. The_Boneshackler
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    The_Boneshackler - July 01, 2012 10:26 am
    I for one look forward to the novelty of lighting my tapwater on fire.
  2. Roger
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    Roger - July 01, 2012 8:09 am
    Montana is a large and sparsely populated state, and the highways and bridges are used by numerous non-residents too, so your argument is very weak, as usual.
  3. Roger
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    Roger - July 01, 2012 8:05 am
    You are correct - journalists usually are horribly incompetent at even the simplest math. They are the products of leftist indoctrination.
  4. MontanaNative1ed7
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    MontanaNative1ed7 - July 01, 2012 1:55 am
    Montana needs to look at the history of Fracking in other states and countries.

    Why did the country of France ban Fracking? Why did Bulgaria ban Fracking?

    What about New Jersey: Lawmakers in New Jersey approved a bill banning hydraulic fracturing — otherwise known as fracking.

    If Fracking is clean energy, then why did the state of Vermont ban Fracking?

    Montana must wake up and look at what has happened to other fracking sites.
  5. Kahlotus
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    Kahlotus - June 30, 2012 6:28 pm
    The entire state of Montana lives off federal handouts. Just who do you think pays for all the highways and infrastructure in this state? That's right, it's those dang worthless liberal people in blue states like MA, NY, NJ, CT, CA, WA, etc. MT receives about $1.50 in federal dollars for every $1.00 its residents pay in federal taxes. The only red state that doesn't receive more money back than they pay is TX.
  6. jackwp
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    jackwp - June 30, 2012 3:39 pm
    I think both the Dems and Repubs have it wrong when they say people want jobs, not handouts. My guess is a growing number of Americans actually prefer handouts to jobs.
  7. DonaldM
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    DonaldM - June 30, 2012 3:15 pm
    Mu suspicion, too. I do know that Geology does real science. I know 1 Co. in Billings who employees 19 UM Geology graduates doing geological analysis of the oil well(ND) bore holes foot by foot for 8500' vertical and 10,000' horizontal-at the well site. I notice that there aren't any Geology courses on the "preferred list".

    It appears to me that Um J School is primarily a leftist, environmentalist propaganda program. Shame Wonder what Jesse would think?
  8. fomerliberal
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    fomerliberal - June 30, 2012 2:42 pm
    God forbid there be any economic development on the REZ. I guess most of them want to just continue the decades long process of depending on the federal government (taxpayers) for their cradle to grave hand outs. Maybe it's time to be self sufficient and quit relying on the government for almost all of your needs. Maybe if the feds stopped the handouts next week they would be more open to an economy that would provide jobs for them and actually provide jobs in exchange for money instead of government welfare!!!!!
  9. jackwp
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    jackwp - June 30, 2012 2:25 pm
    I bet that MATH 444 is a journalism-major killer. The rest of the classes are all talk. Not a single science class?
    And where is Tristan, the journalist, with an explanation?
  10. greenriverkate
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    greenriverkate - June 30, 2012 11:03 am
    My kids have said NO TO oil/gas or any drilling due to fracking. My father in law loved his reservation and money wasn't the big love. He is turning over in his grave to see his beloved rez sold out and destroyed. Once it starts, nothing will EVER be the same. I have lived there off and on since 1966! I fully realize the needs for jobs and income but not at the cost of our grandkids! We are selling OUT. Fracking is horrible and should be stopped at all costs. Personally, I love the land and don't want to see all that cr@p all over the rez. I will stand by these women as long as I am alive and so will my kids. NO to fracking, NO to pay offs, NO to big business, NO to these corrupt "outsiders" that don't give a rip about the rez and her people. Truly, this is a life changing destroyer. Please, all of you study fracking. I always have believed some of the old capped wells are responsible for the cancer that is killling off all families. Some are right up there where water comes from. It just isn't worth it to destroy our grandkids HOME land.
  11. DonaldM
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    DonaldM - June 30, 2012 10:36 am
    jackwp - - How much is real science and how much is propaganda is an open question.


    Required journalism courses:
    JOUR 505 Journalism and the Environment Seminar

    JOUR 567 Studies in Press and Broadcast Law

    JOUR 570 Covering Environmental Science and Natural Resource Issues

    JOUR 575 Story Lab

    JOUR 690 Externship
    Journalism elective
    Professional Project work (6 credits

    Required non-journalism courses:
    Students are also required to successfully complete 12 credits of approved non-journalism courses relevant to the coverage of natural resource issues or environmental science. Registration in such courses is subject to availability, prerequisites and consent of instructor.
    To help students in their choices, we've assembled a list of potential courses, divided into specialties. Students are not limited to the courses on this list, and they may select courses from each specialty.
    General studies:
    GEOG 432 - Human Role in Environmental Change
    ; ECON 433 - Economics of the Environment;
    PHIL 504 - Colloquium on the Philosophy of Ecology;
    HIST 564 - U.S. Environmental History
    Policy studies:
    LAW 650 - Introduction to Environmental Law (Students would also be welcome in Environmental Law II and in a new course, the Law of Climate Change.);
    FOR/RSCN 422 - Natural Resource Policy and Administration;
    FOR 513 - Natural Resources and Environmental Dispute Resolution;
    FOR 622 - Advanced Problems in Environmental Policy
    ; WBIO 410 - Wildlife Policy and Biopolitics;
    COMM 575 - Seminar in Rhetoric & Environmental Controversy;
    ECON 445 - International Environmental Economics and Climate Change
    Science studies:
    WBIO 470 - Conservation & Wildlife Populations;
    BIO 575 - Frontiers in Conservation Research;
    GEOSCI 488 - Snow, Ice & Climate;
    FOR 532 - Forest Ecosystem Analysis;
    FOR/RSCN 570 - Graduate Seminar in Political Ecology;
    FOR/RSCN 571 - International Conservation and Development
    ; FOR 501 - Research Methods
    Analysis & Representation studies:
    GEOG 468 - Community & Regional Analysis;
    GEOG 580 - Seminar in GIS & Cartography
    ; MATH 444 - Statistical Methods;
    FOR 503 - GIS Methods and Applications
  12. CPACyclist
    Report Abuse
    CPACyclist - June 30, 2012 10:01 am
    DonaldM. How dare you introduce facts into an emotional argument. Rather than bring economic development to tribal lands perhaps more welfare is the real solution to decades of poverty and lack of employment opportunities. Rest assured that the EPA and OSHA will rescue the nation from the economic development of tribal and federal lands.
  13. out of town reader
    Report Abuse
    out of town reader - June 30, 2012 9:56 am
    Fracking uses water, beach sand, and sometimes aluminum pellets and it goes on thousands of feet below the drinking water table.
  14. out of town reader
    Report Abuse
    out of town reader - June 30, 2012 9:55 am
    Jobs or food stamps; the choice seems obvious!

    Published June 30, 2012, 10:20 AM
    ND tribal oil refinery gets final permit approval MAKOTI, N.D. (AP) — The Three Affiliated

    Tribes has received the final permit approval for its plan to build an oil refinery on the Fort Berthold Reservation in northwest North Dakota.
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday approved a permit for the discharge of water.
    Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, said the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation can now move forward to build the Thunder Butte Refinery west of Makoti. He says the next step is to get a pipeline that will move oil and gas from the west side of the Missouri River to the refinery site east of the river.
    Hall says the refinery would refine crude oil from North Dakota for use on the reservation and elsewhere.
  15. teepee1232
    Report Abuse
    teepee1232 - June 30, 2012 9:46 am
    quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&; quote&;
  16. DonaldM
    Report Abuse
    DonaldM - June 30, 2012 9:02 am
    More nonsense from the "against everything" people. Does New Breast even live on the Reservation?

    “People are signing away their leases and they don’t understand the consequences", says New Breast. More nonsense. The consequences are that they were given a check for the rental(a mineral lease is defined by the IRS as a "rental") of their mineral rights-they didn't "sign away" anything. And, if oil is found they will receive regular royalty payments-for yrs to come. Is this what you are opposing-Blackfeet people getting out of poverty?

    “To see the beauty of the waterfalls and mountain-fed waters, I want to do everything I can to see that it stays that way.” Are you saying that Indians are supposed to spend their lives communing with nature while others support them?

    They won't be drilling wells on the water falls nor majestic mountains. You can watch them forever from your own personal oil pad on the prairie; or from the mountain pass.

    "As much as 70 percent of the chemicals used in fracking cannot be recovered and remain underground, where they can contaminate local water sources." Blatant falsehood! These wells are at least 8,000 ft deep; way, way below surface aquifers. A dishonest scare tactic.

    There are currently no known environmental contamination incidents from fracking-only conjecture from the "againers". North Dakota has over 7,000 producing oil wells without one incident of the surface aquifer being contaminated.

    "We hope to bring awareness that our water is at stake due to the fracking, and that our waterways could be poisoned.” If you're serious, you can go home in peace. The industry and State and Federal regulators have this under control. They constantly study and monitor these activities. All you can do is upset people unnecessarily, and if successful contribute to the continuing poverty of the Blackfeet people.

    Former Council member Snow knows what he is doing. Listen to this counsel.
  17. Watching
    Report Abuse
    Watching - June 30, 2012 8:33 am
    Thank you, thank you, thank you Lori New Breast and Blackfeet Women Against Fracking! Thank you for doing what you can to save the landscape from greed. Can anyone join the water walk in August? If so, count me in!
  18. nonconfron
    Report Abuse
    nonconfron - June 30, 2012 8:22 am
    jackwp:
    Can you explain EXACTLY how and why it WON'T contaminate "local water sources"????????
  19. jackwp
    Report Abuse
    jackwp - June 30, 2012 7:32 am
    Stupid statement:
    "As much as 70 percent of the chemicals used in fracking cannot be recovered and remain underground, where they can contaminate local water sources."

    Are Journalism students required to take ANY science or even a single arithmetic class? Tristan, perhaps you could explain explain exactly how "local water sources" become contaminated.
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