An alliance working to protect the environment and history of the Killdeer Mountains wants the North Dakota Industrial Commission to reconsider how oil is being tapped in the area.
The Killdeer Mountain Alliance has asked members of the commission Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to include the Killdeer Mountains on a proposed tour of culturally important sites.
The alliance includes landowners, former residents, historians, Native Americans, archeologists, wildlife biologists, hunters and others.
The alliance also is asking the commission to delay any further drilling on public land set aside as “school land” on the west side of the Killdeers until considering its alternative drilling plan. That plan would access the same oil from a different location, which would require three miles of horizontal drilling but would be safer and less archaeologically damaging, according to the group.
“I would like to specifically show them, on the ground, the alternative we are suggesting and how that would help,” said Rob Sand, coordinator of the alliance. “It’s public land that has been enjoyed for ages by hunters, by lease holders, by cattle, by just sight-seers,” he said. “Native Americans have taken quite an interest in this whole issue because they have held this as a sacred ground.”
Jeff Zent, spokesman in Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s office, said Industrial Commission members have not been able to coordinate their schedules for a joint tour of culturally sensitive sites but will be touring individually. They are open to looking at possible new approaches to drilling, he said.
Alison Ritter, public information specialist with the Department of Mineral Resources, said Lynn Helms, the department director, is expected to be involved in the tours but the locations to be included have yet to be determined.
“It’s still pretty early in the planning stages,” she said.
Hess Corp. holds the lease on the land where the alliance is proposing the alternative drilling. Last January, the Industrial Commission approved drilling for eight new wells, and Sand said two wells have been drilled so far. The location is on the west tip of the Killdeer Mountains, northwest of Killdeer.
The existing wells are on the southwest side of the school section. A second pad on the southeast end for four more wells is on land that is untilled, rich in history and likely archeologically significant, the alliance informed Industrial Commission members in a letter earlier this month.
The site is believed to be part of a historical Native American battleground that may provide archeological findings. The alliance reported that the lack of an archeological survey was a factor in its inability to persuade the commission against allowing drilling in the area. Now North Dakota State University in Fargo has funding to conduct a survey, which is another reason to postpone drilling, according to the alliance.
Although not opposed to oil development on private and public land, Sand said, the alliance wants development conducted in as environmentally friendly a manner as possible.
“Most people in this state look at the Killdeer Mountains, I believe, as a scenic place that they want to enjoy as unspoiled as possible,” he said.