MINOT, N.D. - A Three Affiliated Tribes official urged oil industry leaders Tuesday to understand tribal sovereignty and treat tribal nations with respect as the Dakota Access Pipeline was on the minds of many at a North Dakota Petroleum Council event.
Councilman Ken Hall referenced the Dakota Access controversy while addressing the industry group's annual meeting where Hall was recognized for outstanding public service.
"We have to respect each other's sovereignty and be true partners," Hall told about 450 oil industry leaders who are gathered in Minot. "That is the message that needs to be clear to our state government, to the industry, to people that want to extract our resources. Because it's a new day in Indian country."
The limbo surrounding the Dakota Access project is a concern for the oil industry as thousands continue camping north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation to oppose the project. Construction on the 1,172-mile pipeline is on hold within 20 miles of Lake Oahe as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a federal appeals court continue to review the tribe's challenges to the pipeline.
For the oil industry, the Dakota Access Pipeline is critical because it will transport Bakken crude to Patoka, Ill., and onto Gulf Coast refineries, said Jack Stark, president of Continental Resources.
Bakken crude has often been referred to by investors as "disadvantaged crude" because transportation costs are higher, but the Dakota Access project would open up new markets, Stark said.
"The DAPL Pipeline was really going to be the great equalizer there," he said.
Leaders of the Fort Berthold Reservation, where about one-sixth of North Dakota's oil is produced, understand the need for pipelines, Hall said. But the Three Affiliated Tribes have also supported the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline's Missouri River crossing less than a mile north of their reservation.
"We understand the need to get the oil to market," Hall said. "But let's be responsible, let's be reasonable and, more importantly, let's have meaningful consultation with the tribal leaders, Standing Rock in this case, and get their consent and approval. Because what's going on obviously is very contentious and very sensitive. We have to change the approach."
The oil industry group prepared for possible protests with extra security, but the event was quiet Tuesday.
Andrew Browning, executive vice president for the Consumer Energy Alliance, encouraged attendees to do more to engage with the public about the benefits of energy and pipelines. The group, which aims to provide consumers with information about energy issues, launched a campaign called "Pipelines for America" in August, coincidentally about the same time that Dakota Access protests ramped up.
Browning cautioned that national anti-energy groups, such as the Keep It in the Ground campaign, have "hijacked" local energy debates to promote their own anti-fossil fuels agendas.
"The opposition has transitioned from hydraulic fracturing to pipelines," Browning said. "People need to understand the importance of pipelines. ... It is a cheaper, more environmentally sensitive, more benign way of delivering energy safely and reliably."
Another major topic for attendees was the industry slowdown and when companies expect to see a turnaround.
North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness said most companies now project it will be well into 2017 before oil prices improve to a point where drilling will increase. Ness said he was pleased to have 450 attend the meeting despite the downturn.
"Last year there was a little more panic in the air because you were still making those major cuts," Ness said. "At this point, I think everybody's been forced to kind of settle in and you've figured out your baseline for your operations and your survival mode."
Kathy Neset, owner of Neset Consulting Service, said the industry is in a plateau.
"We're holding our own right now and looking for better things by year end," Neset said.
Continental Resources emphasized that the oil industry still has a long future in the Bakken. The company estimates it will take 10 or more years of additional drilling to fully develop the resources, Stark said.
"There's a lot of future left," he said.