ND, tribe garner millions from oil tax accord

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A tax agreement that standardized the rules for oil drilling on an American Indian reservation in North Dakota has spurred more exploration and brought in more than $18 million in revenue, state and tribal officials say.

Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Marcus Levings and Gov. John Hoeven this week extended indefinitely the tax and regulatory agreement on the Fort Berthold reservation, in west-central North Dakota, which has been in place since 2008.

Since the agreement was signed, the number of horizontal wells on the reservation has jumped from one to about 160, Levings said.

“I think it speaks for itself,” Levings said.

Through December, the state has received $13.3 million and the tribe has gotten $4.9 million in tax revenue due to the agreement, said Ryan Rauschenberger, North Dakota’s deputy tax commissioner.

The tax revenue brought in by the deal will be used for to pay for roads, health care and law enforcement, Levings said. Hoeven said the agreement benefits the state and the tribes.

“We share revenue, we share jobs and we share economic activity,” Hoeven said.

“This has been a very good thing,” Hoeven said. “It’s really gone beyond what we expected or what we had hoped for.”

The agreement puts a 5 percent limit on oil taxes on privately owned land within the reservation, and an 11.5 percent cap on taxes on tribal trust land. Trust lands are held in trust by the federal government to benefit the tribe and its members.

The agreement determines how tax revenues are to be divided among the tribe and state government, and allows the tribe to charge $100,000 in fees for every well drilled on tribal trust land.

“This essentially sets up an environment on the reservation so that companies have one set of laws, one set of regulations and one tax system to deal with,” Hoeven said.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said the agreement has given oil companies some certainty about drilling on tribal land.

“You have to have a predictable business climate,” Ness said. Previously, Ness said, “it was double taxes and double regulations that could change overnight.”