Coalition opposes 'extraordinary places' rules
BISMARCK — A coalition of oil producers and royalty owners came out Monday against a proposal being considered by the North Dakota Industrial Commission that would set rules to minimize the impact of oil drilling on so-called “extraordinary places.”
The Oklahoma-based Royalty Owners & Producers Educational (ROPE) Coalition warned in a news release that property rights and royalty checks “are at serious risk” under the rules introduced last month by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem as he unveiled his proposed list of 18 extraordinary places, including Elkhorn Ranch, Lake Sakakawea and the Little Missouri River National Grasslands.
“This rule could slow or stop development of nearly 1 million privately owned mineral acres,” the coalition’s executive vice president, Jerry Simmons, stated in the release. “The (Industrial Commission) currently has a permit review process and the ability to file a protest, so this is simply not necessary to protect North Dakota’s extraordinary places.”
As he said when he introduced the proposal, Stenehjem reiterated Monday that he understands private owners have a legal right to develop their own minerals. He said his proposal would not make it “a lengthy, laborious process.”
“All I’ve ever suggested is that it would be useful to have a process for comment by interested people on locations of those wells, and to ask that they submit a proposal as they’re developing their wells on how to minimize any impact on the environment,” he said.
On Monday, the Industrial Commission – Stenehjem, Gov. Jack Dalrymple and state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring – announced it had tentatively scheduled a special meeting for 11 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the proposal in more detail. The date was tentative because Goehring is on a trade mission to Africa and officials were still trying to confirm that he would be available to participate by phone.
Stenehjem said he has received a lot of feedback about the proposal from landowners and others, and he hopes the meeting will calm fears. No action is expected to be taken on the proposal.
The proposed rules would establish buffer zones of up to two miles around each site on the list. An application to drill within a buffer zone would trigger a notification process, and public comments could be submitted within 10 business days after the notice is posted.
The ROPE Coalition claims that as many as 10,000 proposed well sites may be off-limits under the proposed rules, warning that “North Dakota’s economic miracle is in jeopardy.”
Stenehjem said that’s not the case.
“Nothing is proposed to be off-limits. It simply says if you’re going to have a well there, come in with a plan to minimize the impacts,” he said, adding Industrial Commission will still have final approval over drilling sites.
At a minimum, such a plan would have to address noise and traffic, returning the site to its natural conditions and protecting the viewshed, among other factors.
Monday’s call to action by the ROPE Coalition came on the heels of criticism of the proposal from two Republican state lawmakers, Rep. Roscoe Streyle of Minot and Sen. Kelly Armstrong of Dickinson, with the latter contending the commission is overstepping its authority.
According to its website, the ROPE Coalition formed in 2012 with a focus on “educating and energizing the grassroots of the domestic oil and natural gas industry.” Its directors include royalty owners and representatives of its four sponsoring companies, all players in oil and gas exploration and production: Apache Corp., Continental Resources Inc., Devon Energy Corp. and Newfield Exploration Company Inc.
A message left for Simmons late Monday afternoon wasn’t immediately returned.
Don Morrison, executive director of the Dakota Resource Council, a landowner and citizen group, said the existing permitting process is allowing oil to be extracted faster that the state can handle it and doesn’t provide for adequate public input.
“North Dakota is a fabulous place, and what these folks are saying is a wild exaggeration of what’s intended by the attorney general,” Morrison said.
“They’re setting up a completely false choice of ‘You either do it our way or it will all stop.’ That is fear-mongering at its worst,” he added.