Thursday, December 19, 2013

Industrial Commission considers new rules to protect areas of "extraordinary significance"

Industrial Commission considers new rules to protect areas of "extraordinary significance"


The state Industrial Commission is looking at proposed new rules dealing with oil activity in certain areas of North Dakota.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has proposed the rules – to cover drilling in what he called places of extraordinary significance – such as the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield, the Little Missouri Grasslands and the Elkhorn Ranch. Stenehjem told his Industrial Commission colleagues – this will NOT prohibit oil exploration in those areas – but it asks the companies to have a “mitigation plan.”
The state Industrial Commission is looking at proposed new rules dealing with oil activity in certain areas of North Dakota.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has proposed the rules – to cover drilling in what he called places of extraordinary significance – such as the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield, the Little Missouri Grasslands and the Elkhorn Ranch. Stenehjem told his Industrial Commission colleagues – this will not prohibit oil exploration in those areas – but it asks the companies to have a “mitigation plan.”
"What are they going to do in those areas to provide for a reduction -- as much as possible -- of any impact?" Stenehjem told his colleagues.
The proposed rules also allows for more public comment before wells are drilled in those sensitive areas.
"This process gives everybody a right to a say, but it doesn't give everybody a right to their way," said Stenehjem.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple chairs the Industrial Commission. He says to this point, he thinks the Commission has done a good job of being sensitive to those areas.
"I think you do point out a flaw in the process," Dalrymple told Stenehjem. "The lack of a formalized way to gather public input is probably correct.
"It's a good start," said Jim Fuglie. The fomer state Democratic NPL party chairman has been critical of plans to drill near the Killdeer Mountains and near Bullion Butte in Billings County. Fuglie says it appears the Industrial Commission will be more attuned to concerns raised by residents in those impacted areas.
"If someone looked at every one of the 3000 drilling permits issued in 2013, to see if there's one in some wildlife habitat, where the wellsite could be moved a half mile to allow mule deer a place to make love and create more mule deer," said Fuglie. "That's the kind of scrutiny that has not happened."
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the oil industry says while the industry agrees with many of the new rules, it has concerns about balancing public input with rights of private landowners and mineral rights holders.
"I happen to live in Bismarck, and my back yard is close to a theatre and a little park," said North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness. "I put a chain link fence up there. Should someone have been able to tell me the chain link fence really doesn't fit?"
The Commission will be holding another meeting to see if it wants to adopt Stenehjem’s proposal. If it does – it would also have to go through the Legislature’s Administrative Rules committee before final adoption.

Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public
Members of the North Dakota Industrial Commission briefed on proposed new rules for oil drilling in areas of "extraordinary significance."