More than $1 million in oil production income is being paid out every month to members and the treasury of the Three Affiliated Tribes.
The tribe hit the million-dollar benchmark late last fall and it appears there won’t be any looking back for a long time to come.
Income from oil development goes to 4,200 tribal members who live on the reservation and another 3,000 who live elsewhere. That’s more than half the total tribal membership.
Some also goes directly to the tribal government, which has mineral ownership in about half the reservation’s 1 million acres.
Oil production is just getting started on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, which sits right over the big play Bakken formation.
Production is speeding up because permit applications are clearing a lengthy 49-step permitting process that is unique to tribal and federal trust lands.
There are 39 producing wells inside the reservation and another 82 ready-to-go drill permits in hand. There were 10 producing wells a year ago.
The most intense development is on the northeast side of the reservation, in the Parshall and Sanish fields, where oil production from the Bakken has been going gangbusters.
Individual tribal members and the tribe have been paid more than $180 million, primarily from leases.
Over time, production income will far outpace lease income.
Austin Gillette is the fiduciary trust officer for the Office of Special Trustees for American Indians office at Fort Berthold.
Gillette said federal Office of Special Trustees, which also is unique to reservations, takes in all oil and gas revenue and pays it back out to surface and mineral owners.
It has been object of a lengthy lawsuit by Native Americans alleging trust mismanagement, but Gillette said it’s working well on Fort Berthold.
He said payments are automatic by direct deposit, if requested.
Tribal chairman Marcus Levings said he hopes federal legislation will streamline the ungainly process of getting a drill permit inside a reservation.
The Interior Department, at the request of Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., set up a one-stop shop to expedite the permit requirements from several federal agencies.
Levings said the office has a staff of two and will be fully staffed at five employees.
He said the tribal council is using oil and gas income to pay off debt and provide services to the reservation members.
“We need to use it right, invest in the future and take care of our people,” Levings said.
The tribe also has received nearly $6 million in oil production and extraction taxes, said Fred Fox, tribal energy director.
The tribe and North Dakota have a long term agreement that sets the same oil tax rate on and off the reservation, with the state serving as tax collector for both.