A group dedicated to preserving the archaeology and spirit of the Killdeer Mountains battlefield area wants Hess Corporation to stay farther away and push the outer limits of directional drilling.
Hess is planning eight oil wells on a state school land section on the southwest side of the Killdeer Mountains, in an area near where a famous U.S. Army and Plains Indian battle was waged in 1864.
The state Industrial Commission will hear the case Jan. 24. Four wells are already permitted; four will be reviewed.
The Killdeer Mountain Alliance wants Hess to move the wells two miles south onto private land and send out four-mile-long lateral legs to tap the oil under the school land section.
Rob Sand, a Killdeer Mountains landowner, said emerging drill technology could help.
“We’re told that four-mile laterals are possible,” Sand said.
The longest lateral drilling in the Bakken formation are three-mile laterals by EOG Resources in the Van Hook arm of Lake Sakakawea, according to the state Department of Mineral Resources.
Oil companies first drill two miles down into the Bakken formation and then laterally two miles along the oil-bearing shale.
Three miles is the outer lateral limit in the Bakken so far, and even if drilling could laterally extend four miles, the state and Hess would have to create a four-section spacing unit, said state Land Commissioner Lance Gaebe.
“If they (Hess) want to get (at) them from someplace else, that would be great,” Gaebe said. “It’s not too late to ask for a larger spacing unit.”
He said it’s up to the Department of Mineral Resources and its Oil and Gas Division, not him.
In a statement, Hess said it’s aware of concerns about the well location and has addressed them.
“The wells under consideration are presently being reviewed by the Industrial Commission through their normal process, which provides the community the opportunity to present their concerns so as to ensure a balanced decision,” the statement said.
Gaebe said the State Historical Society identified some archaeological issues on the unit so drilling locations were moved to the south end of the section.
He wants Hess to have an archaeologist on site in case any other artifacts are encountered, and he said if they are, operations must stop.
The state school land section was originally leased for $315 an acre, plus one-eighth royalty to Orion Energy Partners. It was transferred a year later, in 2008, to Hess. The lease is already held by production.
The Killdeer Mountain Alliance, of which Sand is a member, says the mountains are sacred to the Plains Indians because of the battle, in which more soldiers were assembled against them than at Custer’s Battle of the Little Bighorn, and because of burials and the legendary Medicine Hole on top of the mountains.
The alliance says artifacts have been located at and near the proposed drill sites and the school section has a high potential for archaeology.
“I hope the state will be a friend in this. They ought to be, to a natural heritage area,” Sand said. “They should not roll over, take the minerals and not care what the land means to people.”