Plain Talk: Oil and gas moratorium would set ND tribe back "30 years" commissioner says

"You can't just turn the light switch on and off on a whim," North Dakota Indian Affairs Commissioner Scott Davis said.

Scott J. Davis working in his office.jpg
Scott Davis, executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, working in his office. Special to The Forum

President Joe Biden's brand new administration has already taken swift action, by way of executive orders, on all manner of policy fronts.

One notable area is energy, where Biden has already withdrawn an already-issued permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. Now he's expected to sign a new order halting new oil and gas development on federal lands .

What could this mean for tribal lands? "It's not good," North Dakota Indian Affairs Commissioner Scott Davis said on this episode of Plain Talk.


Davis, a member of Gov. Doug Burgum's administration with roots in both the Standing Rock Sioux and Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribes, expressed no small amount of "frustration" with the Biden administration for taking this step.

"You can't just turn the light switch on and off on a whim," he said.

Oil and gas production is hugely important to the people of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, whose lands are located in central and western North Dakota. According to Davis, among America's energy-producing tribes, the MHA Nation is "definitely the top."

Development on their lands represents roughly a fifth of North Dakota's total oil output. Davis says the tribe has enjoyed a financial windfall from oil development, the revenues directed toward building schools, health care facilities, and needed infrastructure.

If Biden's moratorium stops oil and gas leasing on the MHA Nation's lands, "it would set them back 30 years," according to Davis.

"They have a trust responsibility to tribal communities," Davis said of the federal government.

I asked Davis if he knew if the Biden administration consulted tribal leadership in North Dakota on this order. "Not to my knowledge," he told me.

Native Americans are the "most regulated people in America," Davis said, adding that he's afraid this abrupt decision by the Biden administration could set a precedent for other policy areas like education.


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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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