JD 09-24-2012By Jay Daniels

This past week there has been really a couple of major news stories in Indian Country. “The Idle No More” movement is growing stronger and now there is talk about the movement gaining ground  for causes of indigenous people in the United States. Idle No More is an ongoing protest movement originating among the Aboriginal people in Canada comprising the First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples and their non-Aboriginal supporters in Canada, and to some extent, internationally. The other equally important news story was about a little Cherokee girl identified as Baby Veronica and efforts to circumvent the Indian Child Welfare Act by removing the baby from her biological Cherokee father and placing her into a non-Indian family through adoption. But this article isn’t about Idle No More and baby Veronica as much as it is about Indian people demonstrating indigenous rights through treaty and law.

You don’t see very many Indian men who can push a stalled car up a hill without any help. One can move a little, but many can move a whole lot and quicker. One might get the car down the hill, but one will struggle to move it up the hill. A movement provides help from others to accomplish a common goal – get the car over the hump and then go over to mom’s house and eat some fry bread and soup. That’s a common cause that will move mountains in Indian Country.

The movement trend I refer to is cascading across Indian Country today is the protest against oil development through the use of horizontal slickwater fracturing and the environmental impact of drilling. Dr. Martin Luther King once said “The time is always right to do what is right.“[pullquote]QUOTE: “The time is always right to do what is right.Dr. Martin Luther King[/pullquote]An effective movement occurs when a group of folks who share a vision and are committed to stay through to the end of what is being sought. President Obama, regardless of other opinions, has worked with Indian Country and together we have forged meaningful results to benefit our causes.

Now, all of that brings me to this. It amazes me that there is such a groundswell of support for a movement to resist oil and gas development through Indian Country because of environmental concerns by mostly folks who don’t have or expect to ever have an oil well developed on their land. Wow, pretty straightforward and maybe harsh. But it’s my opinion. I recently wrote an article titled “Living in the promise land, or wandering in the desert” discussing the pros and cons of the common term “fracking.” There are many questions and concerns because of the belief that fracking is a new and untested method.

The first use of hydraulic fracturing occurred in 1947. Fracking is a process in which a large volume of is mixed with sand and chemicals to blast apart underground rock formations and free trapped oil and gas. Basically fracking is a process of drilling down and creating tiny explosions to shatter and crack hard shale rocks to release the gas inside allowing the oil or gas to flow out to the head of the well. The process is carried out vertically or by drilling horizontally to the rock layer. The process can create new pathways to release gas or can be used to extend existing channels. The current drilling method making the extraction of shale gas economical was first used in 1998 in the Barnett Shale in Texas.

A friend of mine created a company back in the 1980’s that used a fracturing process to recover oil from abandoned wells. The idea was great, but the cost effective drilling technology wasn’t available. Great ideas always come about before the technology is created. Folks use to ask me all the time when “why doesn’t the oil company drill a well on my land?” I would respond they shouldn’t be disappointed. Very few oil and gas leases result in a producing well being drilled and developed. If a dry hole is encountered, the possibility of future oil and gas leases, or value of bonuses paid may be diminished.

Now, the current movement is against tracking due to various environmental concerns. Rumors are rampant and one such rumor is that oil companies are going to produce U.S. oil and ship it overseas. Now, I’m not a Fortune 500 company owner, but common sense tells me that products shipped into the U.S. are less costly and more lucrative, but U.S. products shipped overseas is costly and less lucrative. What kind of business man would ship crude paying $100 American dollars per barrel plus shipping costs to a country that could purchase it for $75 per barrel at no or less shipping costs.

As recently as this summer, an official with the U.S. Department of the Interior told Congress that “we have not seen any impacts to groundwater as a result of hydraulic fracturing.” In May 2011, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson told the U.S. Senate that she wasn’t aware “of any proven case where the fracking process itself affected water.

An article was released by David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior, on April 11, 2012 entitled Is the recent increase in felt earthquakes in the central U.S. natural or manmade?  provided a preliminary finding that “USGS’s studies do not suggest that hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, causes the increased rate of earthquakes. The same document stated that some blame for earthquakes occurring in the state of Colorado are believed to be the result of injecting wastewater into deep water disposal wells during the years 1962-1966. It took us 50 some years after the Colorado contamination to make drilling an environmental issue?

There are environmental concerns, but fears about climate change don’t cause very many folks to park their cars and walk. Most of my opinions relate to individual Indian mineral and land owner rights to effectively maximize and manage their trust minerals and land. If environmentalists take away their right to manage their minerals within the context of existing law and regulations, then those environmentalists have taken up the same paternalistic personality that government has enforced upon Indian Country for the past several hundreds of years. What if it is eventually universally accepted that fracking is just as environmentally no less dangerous than our past oil and gas drilling methods? It will be too late and Indian minerals will have missed the boat and that American dream of a better lifestyle may have moved on. And by the way, this message wasn’t approved by the oil industry.

Jay Daniels has 30 years of experience working in Indian Country, managing trust lands and is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. You can find resources and information at http://roundhousetalk.com/