Haskell Students Study Effects of Fracking on Drinking Water

Nov 8th, 2015 | By | Category: 27-2: American Indian Law, Tribal College News

Two Haskell Indian Nations University seniors recently received a community-based research award to study the effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on water quality near the Fort Berthold reservation in North Dakota. Mary Iorio (Mandan-Hidatsa) and Joshua Cunningham (Cherokee) received the award as part of the Kansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (K-INBRE) Community- Based Scholar Award Program. The award is given annually to one American Indian undergraduate community-based project for summer research in the students’ home state.

“We would like to look at the potential impacts this large-scale shale oil extraction has had on the local water supplies, especially in light of the recent fracking waste spills near the reservation,” Cunningham says. “The oil boom in North Dakota is disproportionately affecting Native American communities, and unfortunately similar scenarios are happening all over Indian Country. Fort Berthold is only one piece of the puzzle.”

Fort Berthold is located on the Bakken shale formation, a major focus of the nation’s natural gas and oil extraction efforts. Cunningham and Iorio (her family is from the Fort Berthold area) looked for contamination and quality issues in the nearby water bodies that supply drinking water for the Mandan-Hidatsa- Arikara affiliated tribes. The students sampled surface waters and groundwater sources in the region.

“Hydraulic fracturing is a major issue right now, especially on the Fort Berthold reservation, where a third of North Dakota’s oil is being produced. It is important that the people of Fort Berthold know the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing and the subsequent effects on the community’s main drinking water sources,” Iorio maintains. “This issue is especially important to me and to all Native American communities dealing with similar cases.”

Cunningham and Iorio worked closely with local and tribal environmental offices and under the guidance of Dr. Bridgett Chapin, K-INBRE coordinator and a professor of environmental science at Haskell, and Dr. Kerry Hartman of Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College (formerly Fort Berthold Community College). “I kept seeing students who had to forego summer research opportunities at Haskell because of the need to return home during the summers and contribute to their families or communities,” Chapin observes. “The Community-Based Scholar Program I designed in partnership with K-INBRE allows students to return home, get that technical summer research experience, and do something relevant for their communities.”

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