Trucks taking water for oil an issue for ND tribe

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - During spring runoff on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, trucks have been spotted draining water from temporarily filled ditches along U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs roads.

Their intended use for the water and their right to take it come into question. What the tribe can do about it also is questionable.

“Water is a very important area in our program,” said Edmund Baker, environmental director for Three Affiliated Tribes, during the recent Tribal Environmental Risk Mitigation Conference in Bismarck.

One oil well takes 7 million gallons of water to drill and maintain, Baker said. He added that there are between 2,500 and 3,000 wells on the reservation.

“As long as there is a frack job occurring somewhere within the boundaries here, there has been, and will continue to be, a need for water,” he said.

Baker first started receiving reports of the trucks when he started in his position about a year ago. It occurs most visibly off the BIA roads in the Mandaree area. He believes that type of activity went on long before he took up the responsibilities.

From an environmental perspective, the concern lies in the displacement of water from natural runoff, Baker said.

The problem is not being addressed at present, but may be addressed in proposed tribal water codes, Baker said. He said the boom happened so fast the tribal regulation structure is struggling to catch up.

Water codes are being developed for the tribe by a Native American law firm, Fredericks, Peebles & Morgan, according to The Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/1k3IDYO ).

For the first couple of years of the boom, the state also was struggling to keep up, said Dan Farrell of the State Water Commission Water Appropriations Division.

“We have the same concerns,” Farrell said of the trucks.

In the state, companies are able to use natural water bodies as a source for water if they have a permit. Tribal lands are separate from state-controlled land.

Farrell said the commission does not have the staff to monitor the water pumping activity, so it coordinates with county sheriffs. He said the commission has received four to five reports this year of trucks illegally taking water.

Farrell said when they get a permit, truckers taking water are told to post their permit where they’re pumping. That gives them authority to withdraw state water. When the permit is issued, the company must work with landowners to get permission to be on their land.

If a company has no permit, it is considered trespassing, Farrell said. The State Water Commission responds with a cease-and-desist order and fines of up to $2,500 per day.

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