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XTO: Too early to assume oil exploration near Elkhorn Ranch

The company that has drilling sites staked out near a historic North Dakota landmark said Tuesday it's too early to assume oil exploration will ever take place on the sites.

Through spokesman Jeff Neu, XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, hinted that it may shy away from drilling an area that has been staked out about 100 feet from the entrance of Elkhorn Ranch in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a former home of its namesake, the "Rough Rider" president.

"Reports that we are drilling or intending to drill on a site adjacent to the Elkhorn Ranch were premature," Neu said in a statement sent to The Dickinson Press. "We've closely examined a number of issues concerning this particular site and have shared our concerns with the U.S. Forest Service throughout our discussions.

"We will continue our consultations with the Forest Service regarding an alternate location," he said.

On Tuesday, The Press reported that XTO had put in an application with the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources to develop two sections of land and "not more than four well sites" immediately adjacent to the 218-acre ranch parcel.

A hearing before the DMR's Oil and Gas Division regarding the spacing units is scheduled for March 28 in Bismarck.

"It's excellent to hear that XTO may be reconsidering," said park superintendent Valerie Naylor. "Nowhere in that area would be a place acceptable for (drilling) while also keeping with the long-term preservation of the ranch. We want people, when they come to the ranch, to find a place that is historic, inspirational and spectacular -- just like how Teddy Roosevelt saw it in 1884."

When reached by phone, Neau said certain reports that he took in on Monday -- including a report on KFGO-AM out of Fargo -- implied that drilling at the staked out locations was "imminent."

An adopted son of North Dakota, Roosevelt ranched the site in question for several years before becoming the 26th U.S. president in 1901. The area is nestled along the banks of the Little Missouri River -- about 35 miles north of Medora -- and is accessible by trail only with a parking lot stationed about a half-mile from where Roosevelt's cabin once stood.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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