Missouri River Resources

A Missouri River Resources well pad sits on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in 2016.

At 4:30 a.m. on June 27, 2015, Missouri River Resources CEO Dave Williams received a call.

“It was a Saturday,” he said. “They said, ‘Dave, she’s coming in.”

MRR produced its first barrel of oil that day and now, almost a year later, it has put about 1,000 barrels a day away for the MHA Nation.

The Three Affiliated Tribes are working to reclaim its oil production on the reservation by picking up new and expiring leaseholds.

Tribally-owned oil company Missouri River Resources drilled four wells last year. It also has plans for three four-well projects in 2016 and a 32-well project in 2017, said Chairman of the Board Ken Hall

“It’s a new day for us,” he said.

In 2007 and 2008, before Missouri River Resources came to be, the tribe leased the majority of tribal lands to private companies. When that happened, the tribe became a working partner, making them minimal participants. Williams said he would have liked to stop it at the time but didn’t have the means.

But he’s not one to dwell on the past and the things he cannot change. Instead, he learns from it and is looking to the future. The company is working to pick up any leaseholds that become available on the reservation.

“We just picked up over 3,000 acres along the Little Missouri,” Williams said.

The tribe benefits more by drilling its own oil, as 26 percent of the royalties are paid back to the tribe, compared to 18 percent when private companies do the drilling. Hall said the funding can then be used by the tribe to pay for things like infrastructure, education and law enforcement.

The remaining revenue is reinvested into the oil company. As a tribal company, MRR also does not have to pay taxes on oil produced, which gives the company a 10 percent advantage off the top.

The company’s first four wells were drilled on land the company inherited when another company, Red Willow Production Co., left.

All they can do now is stay diligent.

“There’s a lot of opportunity still out there,” Williams said. "It’s been working because we do have 50 wells of progress ahead of us .… If we drill 50 wells, what’s to stop us from drilling 100?”

U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs permitting takes a long time, which keeps some companies from choosing to operate on the reservation, Williams said. Also, those with leases would prefer not to drill while the cost of oil is so low but contractual obligations require it within a certain time period.

They must drill or pay millions to renew the leasehold, said Director of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms. Many are choosing to drill.

In addition to tribal trust land leaseholds, MRR is getting close to 800 acres of allottee land owned by individuals, which equates to 12 wells, according to Williams.

Helms said much of this allottee land is in the lower producing, southeast corner of the oil play. But MRR wants what tribal land it can get.

“We have a great land man, Jason Kreuger. He knows the people,” he said.

It’s not that they’re knocking on doors, creating animosity among other oil companies. The people just tend to feel good about signing leases with a tribal company, Williams said.

“People now know they have a choice on the reservation to work with Missouri River Resources as their own tribal company,” he said.

Williams is also meeting with leaders of companies such as Whiting, Marathon and Hess. 

“So they know we’re here even though we’re the little guy on the block,” Williams said. “If they want to leave and sell their interests on tribal lands, we’re there to pick them up.”

Hall said the state and industry need to do a better job of recognizing the tribe's position as a nation and an oil powerhouse.

“We’re big players in the whole scheme of things,” he said.

Williams said MRR is also "very futuristic" about the tribal oil industry 10 to 20 years from now. The company is working to help train native youth to work in the oil industry so MRR will be able to continue operations for years to come.

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Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com