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Bear Butte Oil Controversy Settled

May 18, 2011, 10:17 PM by Austin Hoffman

Bear Butte Oil Controversy Settled
PIERRE, SD - Controversy over the use of sacred Indian land has been heating up since November. But Wednesday, the Board of Minerals and Environment settled the dispute over whether oil wells can be drilled on land near Bear Butte.

It's a place that has been sacred to the Native Americans for centuries.

"The association is about our genesis, about who we are, about where we come from, about the origin of the Cheyenne People," Conrad Fisher said.

Fisher was at the hearing today representing the Northern Cheyenne Tribe from Southern Montana. He said oil wells a mile and a half from the site could ruin the sanctity of Bear Butte.

Janeen Norstegaard represents the other side of the issue. She owns the land the wells would be put on.

"First and foremost, oil wells aren't loud. They don't make a lot of noise. Secondly, the number one thing that you do hear from the top of Bear Butte, in my experience, is Highway 79," Norstegaard said.

Norstegaard also points to other developments already in the area. But Fisher said the Native American's concerns come back to the past.

"It goes beyond the economics; it goes beyond the encroachment issue. It has to do a lot with the spirituality of the place," Fisher said.

Norstegaard said even though she stands to gain from the oil wells, that money will ultimately benefit the area.

"We won't buy diamonds and yachts and take off. I think that we will probably re-invest it in our community and make sure that it's done right," Norstegaard said.

Norstegaard and her husband, Mark, also waited eight years before picking an oil company they felt was environmentally sound and would treat the area right. That's little conciliation to Fisher who said any development near Bear Butte is too much.

"It really doesn't make sense as a nation to have all this activity going on when in fact this is really a special and sacred place to not just the Northern Cheyenne, but to many other tribes as well," Fisher said.

After listening to all the testimony, the DENR board revoked the original permit for the wells and issued a new one with stricter guidelines

It says no wells can be drilled in the nearly 300 acres within the National Historic Landmark boundaries that were part of the original permit. Outside of that, only five wells can be dug. Those wells must be out of sight from Highway 79.

The actual wording of the permit won't be finished for a few days.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
No wells can be drilled in nearly 300 acres within the National Historic Landmark boundaries, not the park boundaries as first reported.

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