Sunday, December 2, 2012

Speculators, thieves and frackers descend on North Dakota Reservation

Fort Berthold is an Indian Reservation in North Dakota, home to 12,000 people, members of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikari Nation collectively referred to as the Three Affiliated Tribes.  There has been a revolution of sorts on this reservation which was created in 1870, it has oil, and lots of it.The Bakken oilfield includes the Reservation and western North Dakota as well as  Eastern Montana and southern Sasketchewan. It is the largest contiguous oil field discovery in US history according to the  US Geological Survey.

Less than five years ago there were no producing oil wells on Fort Berthold according to Bloomberg Businessweek, today there are 297.  The Bakken has over 7000 producing wells in total.  With such a discovery, the vulture capitalists, speculators, coupon clippers and other social wasters have descended on the region.  But this discovery has also created tremendous problems for these small communities and the Indian people on the Reservation.  Terri Hansen of Indian Country writes:

"It has also brought a huge increase in traffic accidents, while services at the tiny hospital are limited. The industrialization and population boom has strained water supplies, sewage systems, and federal, state and tribal governmental services in the area, as NPR has reported. Exponentially increased amounts of dust drift across deteriorating roadways. Jobs are plentiful and high paying, but there’s housing shortage, and most of what’s there is makeshift. The once quiet one-bar town of Williston has had an influx of prostitutes, while a thinly stretched police force must now regularly quell once nonexistent bar fights, according to the documentary Faces of the Oil Patch."

Fracking which is a method of separating oil from rock by injecting chemicals in to the rock in order to release it has produced numerous complaints of water pollution in the area.  Fracking has been blamed for poisoning water supplies throughout the nation. But the discovery has also set Reservation occupants against each other, those who own land and those that don't.  It is the same old story, one lawsuit tribal members have against the federal government states, "....the misappropriation of land resources belonging to Native Americans.".

Oil drilling has brought in more than $500 million in the last 4 years according to Bloomberg yet the Reservation has no major hospital and the nearest emergency facility is 100 miles away.  In the other small towns outside the reservation the boom has also disrupted everyday life increasing congestion. There is a major housing shortage as the population has grown considerably, and crime and prostitution has risen considerably. The infrastructure of these communities, sewage, water, medical needs, cannot keep pace with the influx of humanity and the changes this brings.

Leaving aside whether oil drilling or fracking should be allowed, what we are witnessing here is a market boom.  The scramble for profits shows no mercy for human communities or the earth that provides us with food and water.  In capitalist society, the natural world, like human beings, is simply something to be exploited, a source of surplus value. The market has its own pace, there is no planning in such ventures. It's not just greed in the abstract, it's the way the capitalist mode of production works. Rational planning of production takes time and the involvement of all concerned, capital detests such barriers.  Like the cattle it takes to market, the quicker they get fat the better no matter what you have to pump in to them.

Here we are talking about the production of energy.  Whether it is the best and most efficient form of energy, or the most efficient form of producing it in harmony with the natural world and human society,  matters not.  What the forces behind the boom seek is surplus value, profits. 

The production of society's energy needs, just like the production of our food, our housing, our necessities of life, cannot be left to their precious market.  What the US government will encourage in Fort Berthold is those among the tribal leadership who support this view and want to profit from it. Tex Hall, the Chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes is also owner of numerous oil industry related businesses and supports drilling; he's an entrepreneur, the epitome of capitalist success.

If you want to know more about what some residents of the Reservation are doing to get their story out and/or would like to contribute to the documentary the woman in the video above is talking about, you can visit this site

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