Fracking in the Blackfeet Nation

08/29/2012 Default

Photo courtesy of Tony Bynum.

On August 15, 2012 the New York Times published an article, “Tapping Into the Land, and Dividing Its People”, about hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" on the Blackfeet reservation in Northern Montana. Members of the tribe are divided on the issue.

The Blackfeet reservation spans 1.5 million acres east of the Rocky Mountains and South of Canada.

In December 2009, the Blackfeet Nation signed the largest oil exploration deal in the history of the tribe with Newfield Exploration Company. Since that time, 1 million acres of the 1.5 million acres of the reservation have been leased to Newfield, Anschutz Exploration Corporation, and Rosetta Resources for oil exploration. These companies promise money and jobs to members of the tribe.

PBS talks with filmmaker Josh Fox about "Gasland", his Sundance award-winning documentary on the surprising consequences of natural gas drilling.

Filmmaker Josh Fox spoke about how he was approached by oil companies interested in leasing his land in an interview with PBS (above). A representative approached him and offered approximately $100,000 dollars to put a drill on his property, downplaying the effects of fracking, and comparing the well to a "fire hydrant" on his land. Later, when he asked why it's not mandated for these oil representatives to disclose the potential risks of fracking, which include groundwater contamination, he was told that residents should hire a lawyer. It's easy to see how oil companies persuade people, especially those living in impoverished places, to lease land to these companies.

Part of the reason that it's been so easy for oil companies to get away with partial disclosure (or none at all) about risks of fracking, is because it has been so widely unregulated. Fracking is a procedure used to extract natural gas. In order to frack, millions of gallons of water and hundreds of chemicals are pumped into a steel pipe at high pressure. These fluids open and crack underground rock, creating small earthquakes. Once the rock is open, or fractured, oil above can drain into the pipe and be pumped to the surface.

"What the frack is going on with all this fracking going on?". "My Water's On Fire Tonight" is a product of Studio 20 NYU in collaboration with

In 2005, President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act, which prevented the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating fracking to protect drinking water sources. At the urging of Vice President Dick Cheney, fracking fluids were exempted from the clean water act after oil companies complained that disclosing fracking chemical formulas would mean that competitors could steal their compositions. Essentially, oil exploration companies were exempt from strict water safety regulations. And whole communities have had their water contaminated by fracking.

In areas of the country where fracking occurs, residents have reported their water catching on fire and pets' hair falling out. Chemicals in the fracking mixture include: benzene (a known carcinogen), formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), hydrochloric acid (a highly corrosive, strong mineral acid), methanol (highly toxic to humans), xylene, and many scary more.

In December 2011, the EPA made a link between ground water contamination and fracking. They are now conducting a study about the impacts of fracking on drinking water. The first progress report will be available in late 2012. It will then be peer reviewed and released in 2014.

The Blackfeet's territory in Montana will be changed forever. There have been members of the community who have been vocal about their concerns and opposition. Pauline Matt, a Blackfoot Elder, and Lori New Breast, organized Blackfeet Women Against Fracking. This month, Matt organized the Chief Mountain Water Walk, to raise awareness about fracking. The walk covered 80 miles, from the sacred site of Chief Mountain to the sacred site of Heart Butte Summit.

"In my worst nightmares I never thought it would be this way," Matt writes in "Fracking For Oil in the Blackfeet Nation" for the Glacier National Park Travel Guide.

"This destruction will change the life of the Blackfeet Indian like nothing else has ever done. This makes me sad," Matt concluded.

For more information about the Blackfeet and to show your support of the Blackfeet Women Against Fracking, please visit the links below:

Blackfeet Women Against Fracking Facebook

Blackfeet Nation

Tony Bynum's Interactive Map of the Oil Exploration on the Blackfeet Reservation

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