Yellow Bird: Oil on the Fort Berthold Reservation
"In less than three months, the last time I was home, the scene on the Fort Berthold reservation in western North Dakota has changed dramatically.

We are standing on a precipice. The oil boom is here, and we are at a point of great change. How we work through that change will determine our future.

This isn’t the first North Dakota oil boom, but it is first time the discovery targeted the Fort Berthold reservation. In the early ’60s, there was oil across the Missouri River in the Williston Basin west of New Town. Many of those rigs stopped pumping for some reason — either the price didn’t make it worthwhile or the wells were exhausted. The tribe is taking over some of these oil units. They are repairing and making them work again.

As luck would have it, I was able to hitch a ride with some tribal people on one of their trips out to the wells to see for myself. I was able to do that because my brother, Don, also works for the Three Affiliated tribes. And as his older sister, I outrank him.

J.D. Smith, tribal field inspector, drove for us. Smith has years of experience in working those wells. He started as a “roughneck” and worked the rigs until he had an accident. Tongs at one site snapped and severely injured his face, he said. He was hired by the tribe and is adamant about oil well and drilling safety. I can see how important he is to oil projects on the reservation.

The dangers on and around a wells site are numerous. Poisonous gases, explosions, falls and getting caught in equipment are just some of the things workers worry about."

Get the Story:
North Dakota at point of great change at precipice of oil boom (The Grand Forks Herald 5/24)
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