Crude Fight

A North Dakota Indian reservation has struck oil—and that’s the problem.

  1. Tex Hall strolls across a parking lot at the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota and enters the tribe’s administrative headquarters. Hall, 56, is wearing jeans, cowboy boots, and an ornate silver belt buckle the size of a tortoise shell. He removes his sunglasses. Inside, the tribal business chamber has the air of a bustling county courthouse. Hall is the reservation’s top elected leader, chairman of the 12,000 members of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation (also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes). Over the past century, Fort Berthold has struggled with poverty and high unemployment, but recently its fortunes have been on the upswing. The reservation has struck oil.

    Fort Berthold, which covers an area slightly larger than Rhode Island, sits above the Williston Basin, a geologic formation rich in shale oil. About five years ago, engineers figured out how to extract the oil using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, techniques. Since 2008, according to tribal records, ...

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