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Jewell: ND 'needs to make good history' with energy play

Saying North Dakota "needs to make good history and not bad history," Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell capped off her visit to the state with a stop in Dickinson on Wednesday.

"There is very important energy development happening here that is supporting our nation's energy independence," Jewell said during a short press briefing at the Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge. "But there are also impacts on the environment, on the people that live here, on the cost of living and on the infrastructure. How we address all that in a thoughtful way that supports this important source of energy for the country, but also the wildlife habitat, the national parks close by and the agricultural lands that are also part of the way of life of people here in North Dakota, is very important."

After visiting several sites in and around Williston early Tuesday with a contingent that included North Dakota Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Bureau of Land Management Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze, Jewell spent the late afternoon touring Theodore Roosevelt National Park with Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor and other park staff.

One of the questions Jewell, who was making her first trip to North Dakota as secretary, asked Naylor was how the park is coexisting with oil and gas development that is prevalent near the national park.

"We're concerned about that," Naylor said. "Like everyone else out here, we have issues with finding affordable housing for park staff and employee retention. More importantly, though, we're concerned about the things that we're trying to protect, like our scenic views, night skies, air quality and natural sounds -- there's a lot more noise now. We try to deal with issues on a case-by-case basis."

With energy development occurring on the doorstep of both the park's North and South Units, Naylor said, at times visitors don't understand that the park doesn't control everything in sight of its more than 70,000 acres.

"If you go to Buck Hill in the South Unit at night, you can usually see about two dozen (natural gas) flares on the horizon," Naylor said. "There's really no comprehensive landscape approach to development though and I think that would be helpful. I'm going to speak with an oil company soon that is interested in drilling near the Elkhorn Ranch, which is a very special place."

Jewell called North Dakota a leader nationally in the development of energy and stressed the importance of continuing to retrieve resources with appropriate environmental stewardship.

"One of the things I think we were able to show Secretary Jewell during her trip to the Bakken was all the work we're doing to try to reduce flaring," Hoeven said Wednesday. "Reducing flaring is very important and we were able to show (Jewell) what some of these companies are doing with new and innovative techniques."

Hoeven stressed the importance of people working together at the state, tribal and federal level, along with private industry, to create an example for energy development that "could be a model" for the rest of the country. Using hydraulic fracturing as an example, Hoeven added that a state's-first approach to regulation is needed.

"What we're really talking about is a partnership whereby we can accept each other's work and not have so much duplication in regulation," Heitkamp said. "Streamlining doesn't mean reduced regulation. North Dakota has had this amazing experience of hurry up and get it done. But, as we look at that, we also need to make sure we're protecting our resources but also providing predictability. We need to make sure that we have the ability to tell (the energy industry) where the problems are before they begin their permitting process so they know exactly where the obstacles will be."

Jewell has said publicly that she hopes the Department of Interior doesn't have any "climate change deniers." When asked about the subject of climate change and how it relates to the Bakken, she referred to carbon pollution as a problem.

"You couldn't have more complexity in a small area than what we have here in North Dakota," Jewell said. "This is a good case study because it's all happening right here -- this is a state that is blessed in natural resources. Collectively and together, we can do it right. What's happening here in the Bakken and the Three Forks is really groundbreaking, but there are all kinds of complexities that come with that. We need industry to think hard about extracting this resource in a way that is less impactful to the environment and I certainly saw some illustration of that during my visit."

Jewell, Hoeven, Heitkamp and Kornze also met Wednesday morning with the Bakken Federal Executives Group in Dickinson.

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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