Meade County objects to Bear Butte decision

Sturgis, South Dakota (AP) June 2011

The Meade County Commission has decided to ask a state board to reconsider its decision restricting oil drilling near Bear Butte, a mountain in western South Dakota that is considered sacred to many Indian tribes.

The state Board of Minerals and Environment in November approved an order allowing Nakota Energy LLC to drill up to 24 wells in a 960-acre field within 1.5 miles of Bear Butte. The board reopened the case and in May voted to revoke the original order and instead allow only five wells to be drilled, none of which can be located within the boundary of an area designated a national historic landmark around Bear Butte.

In a letter to the state board, the county commission says it is unaware of any “engineering, geological or other scientific reason” for the board’s restriction of drilling.

“If the restrictions apply to an area deemed sacred to American Indians, that would include the entire Black Hills,” the letter states. “If the restrictions apply to the area . that is thousands of square miles, and includes large portions of Meade, Lawrence and Butte counties.”

The board had considered suing to overturn the state board’s decision, but Deputy State’s Attorney Ken Chleborad told the board it had little legal ground to stand on.

Chleborad said a key to filing a lawsuit is determining the exact boundaries of the Bear Butte National Landmark. After searching through the office of equalization, officials were not able to locate a document outlining the boundaries, he said.

The county commission can expect a battle if it files a lawsuit, said James Swan, president of a group called the United Urban Warrior Society.

“We’re going to fight this if it takes 5 years, 10 years, 100 years. We’ll never give this up,” Swan said.

Members of several Indian tribes fast and hold religious ceremonies on Bear Butte, which rises 1,300 feet above the surrounding plain on the north edge of the Black Hills and is so named because it resembles a sleeping bear lying on its side.