As reported by the Mitchell (SD) Daily Republic, The South Dakota State Board of Minerals and Environment has ruled to permit Nakota Energy to drill for oil near Bear Butte, a sacred site for northern plains Indians. However, the new ruling decreases the scope of Nakota Energy’s operations: A ruling made in 2010 allowed for 24 wells within 1.5 miles of Bear Butte; the recent decree says the company can drill only five wells, and that all must be outside a boundary.
The company has already drilled two wells, both of which do lie outside the boundary. The website ProtectBearButte.com has posted photos of the existing wells.
At the hearing, numerous officers of different tribes testified that Bear Butte is sacred and should be protected. Conrad Fisher, the historical preservation officer for the Northern Cheyenne tribe, said that “To the Cheyenne this is the center of the universe.”
The dispute stems, at least in part, from the fact that the company wants to drill on land that is privately owned, and did not think that tribal consultation was necessary. In addition to being a sacred site, Bear Butte is also a national historic landmark and a state park. About a third of the original proposed drilling area was found to be within the boundaries of the state park.
Janeen Norstergaard, who owns the land, told CBS affiliate Keloland-TV that she thinks the controversy is overblown. “First and foremost, oil wells aren’t loud,” she said. “They don’t make a lot of noise. Secondly, the number one thing that you do hear from the top of Bear Butte, in my experience, is Highway 79.”