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For Blackfeet, Fracking Has Too Much Economic Upside

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Nearly all the Blackfeet Nation’s 1.5 million acres are leased for oil and gas exploration, but on the west the tracts adjoin Glacier National Park, a bastion of pristine nature that is widely regarded as the antithesis of development and industrialization.

A 2006 resolution by the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council allows Denver-based Anschutz Exploration Corp. to drill exploratory wells on a 40,000-acre tract adjoining the Park’s eastern boundary, according to the Missoula, Montana Missoulian.

The region may contain some 109 million barrels of oil and 8.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas as part of the Bakken Shale formation-related oil boom not only in Montana but also in in North Dakota, where the Three Affiliated Tribes reap millions from wells that tap the formation.

Anschutz is actively looking for oil and gas via exploratory wells, all of which are to be hydraulically fractured, according to Grinnell Day Chief, head of the Blackfeet Oil and Gas Bureau as quoted in

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The hydraulic process, colloquially termed “fracking,” involves pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of water and chemicals under high pressure into the earth, creating fissures that allow oil and gas to be extracted.

Twenty-five exploratory wells have been drilled to date this year on the reservation and 34 more are planned by summer’s end, with the number expected to double in 2012, Day Chief said.

Environmental concerns are largely unfounded and tribal ordinances are in place to protect natural resources, he said.

“Oil and gas exploration has really exploded across Indian country in recent years because of the new horizontal drilling technology,” David Spotted Eagle Jr., with the Blackfeet Environmental Office’s Brownfields Program, told the Missoulian. “We have zero tolerance for spills and releases because we’ve reached a point where ignorance is no longer an excuse.”

With reservation unemployment at about 70 percent and a tight tribal budget, the Blackfeet could reap substantial benefits if wells go into production, but some tribal members believe more environmentally friendly options may be available.