KILLDEER (AP) - Stone fragments and a possible burial site have been identified on land near the Killdeer Mountains that is being eyed for oil development, but that discovery won't necessarily stop the project.
The areas on state land in Dunn County were identified in 1999 and 2007 and have not been excavated, state historic preservation coordinator Susan Quinnell told The Forum newspaper. State officials can only recommend the sites not be disturbed.
"Our concern is that when we can't ask for surveys, that archaeological resources may be lost," Quinnell said. "And once they're lost, they're gone forever."
Hess Corp. is seeking permission to drill up to eight wells in the area. A father and son who own land in the area and a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes have objected to the plan. Hess says it will concentrate in areas away from the two identified archaeological sites.
State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms is likely to make a recommendation on Hess's plans to state regulators next month. Historic preservation officials have recommended that the two archaeological sites be avoided.
State law gives preference to maximizing financial returns on state lands - such as through mineral rights - over protecting artifacts. Lance Gaebe, North Dakota's commissioner of public lands, said his department works with mineral developers to avoid areas where there are concerns about artifacts or wildlife habitat.
The Killdeer Mountain Battlefield, a state historic site, is 2 miles east of the proposed drilling site and is not threatened by the project, Quinnell said. Dakota, Nakota and Lakota Sioux fought the U.S. Army at the historic site in 1864.