Three affiliated American-Indian groups in 2003 asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs, part of the Interior Department, for approval to accept about 500 acres of land into a trust that would let tribes manage the land. They want to use the bulk of it for herding purposes, though about 190 acres would be set aside for a refinery.
If constructed, the North Dakota refinery would be the first new facility in the United States in more than 30 years. The facility could process as much as 13,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil per day.
U.S. Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar described the decision as historic.
"We are supporting infrastructure that will help bring American oil and gas to market while promoting tribal economic development and self-determination regarding land and resource use," he said in a statement.
Republican critics of the domestic energy policy of U.S. President Barack Obama accused Salazar of capitalizing on decisions made by the previous administration for political gain.