Haskell students to study fracking on North Dakota reservation

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota hosts more than 1,000 fracking wells. Photo by Talli Nauman / Native Sun News

Two students from Haskell Indian Nations University will study the impacts of fracking on the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota.

Mary Iorio and Joshua Cunningham are seniors at Haskell. They received a grant from the Kansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence Community-Based Scholar Award program to examine how hydraulic fracturing has affected water supplies on the reservation.

“Hydraulic fracturing is a major issue right now, especially on the Fort Berthold Reservation, where a third of North Dakota’s oil is being produced. It is important that the people of Fort Berthold know the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing and the subsequent effects on the community’s main drinking water sources," said Iorio, who is a member of the tribe.

Iorio and Cunningham, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, will conduct their studies next summer. They plan to sample groundwater from sources that feed into the reservation.

“The oil boom in North Dakota is disproportionately affecting Native American communities, and unfortunately similar scenarios are happening all over Indian Country," Cunningham said. "Fort Berthold is only one piece of the puzzle.”

The reservation is home to more than 1,000 fracking wells, The Native Sun News reported last month. In the last two years, the tribe has seen four spills of brine, a byproduct of fracking, including a spill of more than 1 million gallons in July 2014.

"I'll just come out and admit it: We can't handle it right now," Edmund Baker, the tribe's environmental director, told Al Jazeera of the boom in energy production. "We are not equipped. We are not staffed."

The two students will work with the tribe's environmental office as part of their research. They will be supervised by a professor at Haskell and another one at Fort Berthold Community College.

The Bureau of Land Management issued a regulation to set fracking standards on federal and Indian lands but it's on hold in federal court. Members of Congress are also seeking to block the rule or lessen its impact through the appopriations process.

Federal Register Notice:
Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands (March 26, 2015)

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