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Collaborative Problem Solving: A Tool to Address Fracking Concerns

2014 June 5

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By Danny Gogal

The continuous passing of rumbling eighteen wheeler trucks, utility vehicles, pick-up trucks and cars witnessed on April 8, 2014, is a familiar site to those visiting or living in New Town, North Dakota. Located within the Fort Berthold Reservation, it is home to the Three Affiliated Tribes (TAT) – Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes. The regular flow of traffic in such a remote town is the result of the burgeoning business of oil and natural gas extraction, made possible by advances in technology for accessing oil and gas in shale formations found deep in the Earth through horizontal drilling and the fracturing of rock, commonly referred to as hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

I arrived in the afternoon to begin a three day training workshop on collaborative problem-solving, appropriate dispute resolution, and environmental laws. EPA supported the workshop in response to a TAT community-based representative’s request for an interagency meeting and training in North Dakota for tribes, indigenous organizations and tribal members on issues of environmental justice.

Untitled-3The unprecedented amount of oil and gas development has enhanced job opportunities, significantly lowered unemployment, and is bringing in substantial revenues to the TAT, resulting in the elimination of the tribes’ debt.  However, it is also straining the reservation’s infrastructure, overstretching the resources (personnel and financial) and capability of the TAT’s departments. This, of course, includes the environmental department, which is facing significant environmental and public health concerns, such as the proper disposal of hydraulic socks and fracking fluids, and concerns about the flaring of gas.

The TAT tribes’ government faces challenges that are experienced by virtually every other government: the need to grow their economy to obtain revenue to meet the needs of the community and to do it in a sustainable way.  This is not easy, and is even more challenging in Indian country due to the myriad of laws and regulations and the unique political status of federally recognized tribes.  However, experience has shown that sustainable development can be effectively accomplished when the key parties are meaningfully involved, the necessary tools are available and used, and an appropriate collaborative approach is utilized.

Untitled-1Approximately 40 tribal community-based representatives, TAT tribal government officials, academia, business and industry, state government representatives, traditional peacemakers, and federal officials from the departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Bureau of Land Management, and Environmental Protection Agency, participated in the workshop.

The workshop provided training on collaborative problem-solving approaches, dispute resolution techniques, including mediation/negotiation processes, skills and tools, federal statutes that pertain to environmental and public health protection, grants/financial assistance programs, federal tribal and community-based programs, and federal Indian law and policy.  It also provided the participants the opportunity to enhance or build new working relationships and identify issues of mutual interest for which they can collaborate to address their environmental and public health concerns, as well as other quality of life interests of the TAT communities.

I am hopeful that one or more collaborative approaches will effectively be used to address the range of concerns facing the TAT communities.  I am encouraged by a participant’s statement on the evaluation form noting that a key benefit of the workshop was “meeting people to build collaborative relationships with.”  Additionally, at the Workshop, a tribal council member noted his support for a public meeting with oil and gas developers to enhance understanding of interests and concerns among the stakeholders on the reservation.

Finally, plans for the a public meeting of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (IWG) to focus on the environmental justice concerns of federally recognized tribes and indigenous peoples is still being planned and is projected to be held in September 2014 in Bismarck, North Dakota.  I encourage tribal governments, indigenous community-based organizations, tribal members, and other interested parties to attend the meeting to discuss how we can work collaboratively to effectively address environmental justice issues in Indian country and in other tribal areas of interest.  Information on the IWG public meeting will be available soon on the IWG web site.

About the author:  Daniel Gogal has a public policy, environmental policy, and public administration background and has worked on tribal and indigenous environmental policy and environmental justice issues for over 25 years.  He is the Tribal Program Manager for the Office of Environmental Justice, where he has worked for the past twenty-two years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. William Sekerak permalink
    June 5, 2014

    Fracking and the irrefutable value that it provides to a modern society must take precedence over tribal concerns founded in superstitious mythology or any kind of supposed group rights. Existing laws already address renumeration for the sale or lease of property and any ” harm ” that might occur from extracting a natural resource that provides numerous jobs, a significant drop in Co2 emissions and greater national security by way of increased energy independence.
    The past must always make room for the future or any webs we weave will shrivel and fall.

    Bill Sekerak

    • Sad American permalink
      June 6, 2014

      Wow. If everyone thought like you the planet would already be 100% destroyed, rather than just 75%. The countdown is on. Your statement of superstitious mythology shows how out of tune you are with nature. You must work for an energy group where money is valued over the state of our precious planet and it’s finite resources.

      • Bill Sekerak permalink
        October 30, 2014

        I am a retired landscape maintenance manager I have no ties to any energy companies. Your
        Fear mongering is showing, the planet is just fine. I suppose you would rather have us burn
        wood and dung , like the undeveloped nations do , instead of natural gas.

  2. Khara permalink
    June 5, 2014

    Here at Quality Recycling we have been working for years on a RCBC waste to energy system that can recover the hazardous material used in fracking and can create fuel and non hazardous sand using our RCBC technology. This revolutionary process revitalizes the earth and recovers hazardous waste. This technology can solve fracking recovery and many more types of hazardous waste recovery. For more info look at our website.

  3. Tyler permalink
    June 6, 2014

    Fracking is BAD.

    It may reduce our carbon dioxide emissions; but at the expense of the water we drink and the air we breath. How about those THOUSANDS of ‘classified’ chemicals that the big fracking companies use.

    See waterdefense.org for personal accounts of what Hydraulic Fracturing does to communities across America.

    The Greener we go (use less fossil fuels (coal, oil, NATURAL GAS, etc.) but rather use solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal oceanic) the more $reen we shal save. Sure that fracked gas may bring in some bucks and jobs for the local economy in the short term. However how does it effect that local economy in the long run with polluted water ways, devalued real estate, destroyed biodiversity, and many patients in the hospitals for cancer, asthma, and other medical illnesses. That’s right the economic consequences out way the economic benefits. Therefore:

    The greener we go, the more $reen we shal save!

    • Bill Sekerak permalink
      October 30, 2014

      You’re dead wrong fracking is saving our economy and helping to lift people out of poverty. Please show me proof of any damage to ground water anywhere on earth as a result of fracking. You can’t because it
      Has never happened. Fracking takes place far below the water table making it impossible for it to contaminate groundwater.
      Matt Damon’s propaganda film featured individuals who drilled wells into natural gas pockets and are trying to make a buck off of energy companies. They have failed in court for a reason.

  4. Raymond Takashi Swenson permalink
    June 9, 2014

    Very interesting article. However, I was sad to see that you were quoting the “Chief Seattle speech” which was actually written in 1971 by a white screenplay writer, Ted Perry. I live in Washington State so the anomalies in the speech were perhaps a little more obvious to me than to many other readers.

    Anomalies include the claim that the chief had seen white men shooting “a thousand buffalo” from trains, even though buffalo were not in Washington territory and there were no railroads in the territory in 1854. The speech bemoans the loss through urbanization of “the lonely cry of ther whippoorwill” which is a bird whose habitat in the US runs from Texas north along the gulf and east coasts, and does not extend into the Pacific Northwest. That reveals the real author’s residence in Texas at the time he wrote the piece. Similarly when he talks about the smell of wind “scented with the pinon pine”, another part of the Texas ecosystem but not known in Washington Territory. Please check Snopes.com.

    Use of a patently false story undercuts your credibility, which would be a sad result when you are discussing such vital topics.

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