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ND Tribes Say Keeping Methane-Waste Rule a Win; ND Senators Split

North Dakota's two U.S. senators disagreed on the fate of a BLM rule that prevents methane-gas venting and flaring at oil developments on public and tribal land. (Tim Evanson/Flickr)
North Dakota's two U.S. senators disagreed on the fate of a BLM rule that prevents methane-gas venting and flaring at oil developments on public and tribal land. (Tim Evanson/Flickr)
May 15, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota tribes say the U.S. Senate's decision not to overturn a rule requiring energy developers to limit methane gas leaks and flaring on tribal land is a win for their health and the environment. However, the state's Senators split their votes on that decision.

In a statement, Dave Archambault, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, praised Sen. Heidi Heitkamp for protecting air quality for future generations. Heitkamp cited the concerns of multiple tribes as key to her decision not to eliminate the methane-waste rule.

Ruth Buffalo lives on the Fort Berthold Reservation, which accounts for about one-sixth of North Dakota's oil production.

"Heidi Heitkamp and her decision provides some hope for us,” Buffalo said. “And I really want to commend the people who have been working tirelessly on this throughout the past three years."

The Bureau of Land Management methane-waste prevention rule was put in place under the Obama administration. Congress tried to repeal the rule using the Congressional Review Act, which would have blocked any similar regulation in the future - but that attempt failed, by a Senate vote of 51 to 49.

Sen. John Hoeven voted to repeal the rule, saying it's costly and that North Dakota already has state rules reducing flaring.

Buffalo said she disagrees and that repealing the rule would have had a direct health impact on her home and community. She said Hoeven's vote is of special concern given his new position in the Senate.

"He's now the newly-elected chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. He needs to be held accountable in his decisions that he makes on behalf of the entire Indian country,” she said.

Buffalo said the methane-waste rule helps protect tribal communities, which already face increased health risks over other communities. Grassroots groups, including the Western Organization of Resource Councils and its member group in North Dakota - the Dakota Resource Council - also celebrated the vote.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND