In North Dakota, Hess Corporation is looking to drill for oil on four 1,280-acre spacing units near the Killdeer Mountains. They have their eye on a patch of public school land owned by the state in Dunn County and want to drill as many as 8 wells.
Loren Jepson, who owns nearby land, and another man who is a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes are trying to stop Hess from drilling by claiming that increased road traffic will be dangerous for local residents and that Native American artifacts might be lost.
It seems that in 1997 and 2008 stone fragments and a possible burial site were found at two locations on the state land. Hess Corp. says it has no plans to drill near either site, but that hasn't stopped the rancher and the Native American activist from raising objections. Although there is no evidence that there are any "historical artifacts" on the four lands parcels.
Ironically, the oilmen have the upper hand in this battle because state law is on their side this time. In several other states, like California, the mere suggestion that an American Indian had even cooked a meal at a particular spot would be enough to get a court order to halt drilling. In contrast, North Dakota's laws specifically state that the state has a “fiduciary duty” to manage the lands for the benefit of public schools and other public land owners. That means the law gives preference to maximizing financial returns on state lands.
However, according to Susan Quinnell, a state historic preservation coordinator, "It [the drilling] would be away from the known sites, but still we don’t know what may be out there."
By law, state historic preservation officials can only "recommend" that land officials steer mineral developers away from artifact sites, and that recommendation does not have the force of law. It's kind of like a traffic cop who can only ask you to slow down because he isn't allowed to write you a ticket.
State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms is likely to make a recommendation on Hess's plans to state regulators next month.