A drilling company outlined a proposal for drilling near the Killdeer Mountains while two neighboring landowners voiced their opposition at a Wednesday hearing in Bismarck.
The state Department of Mineral Resources Oil and Gas Division spent just more than an hour of its scheduled hearing Wednesday on both sides of the proposed drilling by Hess Corp.
Hess is seeking permission to drill up to eight wells on four 1,280-acre spacing units in Dunn County near the Killdeer Mountains, northwest of Killdeer. The section of land Hess is looking to drill on is public school land owned by the state. The land is near the boundary of the Killdeer Mountains Wildlife Management Area.
The Hess proposal was one of several drilling sites reviewed by the Oil and Gas Division in the Killdeer Mountains area Wednesday. Some other sites reviewed Wednesday are near the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield State Historic Site as well as Medicine Hole, a site that is considered sacred to Native Americans.
Rancher Loren Jepson, who owns land near the proposed Hess drilling site, was on hand to voice opposition. His son, Ross Jepson, also is an adjacent landowner and was at the hearing.
Loren Jepson said the drilling of several new wells in the area would create a tremendous amount of traffic. Jepson said there is a bus stop for school children near his home on a stretch of road. He said the stretch of road is already a safety risk for school children and has poor visibility due to curves in the road. He said increased traffic from oil activity could increase those risks.
“It makes so much traffic ... it’s just a dangerous spot,” Loren Jepson said.
Ross Jepson expressed similar concerns with the school crossing and the potential traffic increase.
“It’ll be phenomenal when they frack,” Ross Jepson said. “It’s a very dangerous corner.”
Ross Jepson said he’d “be willing to bet a large amount of money” on the odds of seeing a fatal accident in the area if drilling is permitted at the proposed site.
Attorney Tom Gehrz, with Mackoff Kellogg law firm of Dickinson, was representing Loren Jepson at Wednesday’s hearing. He handed out photos of the roadway to oil and gas division officials, seeking to use them to highlight the concerns of both of the Jepsons.
“The truck traffic would increase dramatically. This presents a significant danger to these school children trying to cross,” Gehrz said.
John Morrison with the Crowley Fleck law firm in Bismarck was on hand representing Hess. He took issue with an objection filed by Loren Jepson on Friday through the Mackoff Kellogg law firm.
Loren Jepson’s objection states that there are “substantial historical artifacts” on the land where the drilling by Hess is being proposed. Morrison said the state made no reference to Native American artifacts on the state-owned section of land during the application process. He questioned Loren Jepson’s statements.
“Are you an archaeologist?” Morrison asked.
Jepson replied that he wasn’t.
“Are you a paleontologist?” Morrison asked.
Jepson again replied that he wasn’t.
Morrison said he objected to Loren Jepson’s statements filed in his objection, adding that “there’s no basis for that assertion.”
Tambra Sullivan, a landman for Hess, said the company was proposing the wells to be placed on the southern portion of the state-owned section of land. Sullivan said Hess considered it more feasible because the company is planning to build a pipeline gathering system for oil and natural gas to the area eventually. When asked when this might take place, Sullivan said she didn’t know.
Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said after the hearing that the proposal has a number of variables to weigh. He said he expects a recommendation on the Hess proposal to be brought before the state Industrial Commission at its next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 19.
“This is going to be a very difficult balancing act for the commission,” Helms said.
Helms said the safety issues and the location of the proposed drilling on state land would have to be weighed. He added that the state has been trying to keep drilling from being permitted too close to the Killdeer Mountains Wildlife Management Area. He said if drilling is permitted, its proximity to the wildlife area will be a factor.
“I think we’re going to be able to fashion a solution out of this ... that addresses the major concerns,” Helms said.