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Stark Co. against federal fracking regulation: Commission to send letter favoring state jurisdiction

When it comes to hydraulic fracturing -- the oft-times controversial drilling technique that's unlocked vast stores of oil and natural gas in the Bakken and Three Forks formations in western North Dakota -- Stark County officials believe that states know best.

At least, that's the idea behind a letter the Stark County Commission agreed on Tuesday to send to the federal government requesting that regulation power over hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," remain with the states.

The letter idea was proposed to state officials by Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in May, said Vicky Steiner, executive director of the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties.

"You wouldn't have to send one, but we think that it would be good if the federal government saw that even at the local level you are aware that they are trying to change the regulations," Steiner told the commission Tuesday. "I don't know what oversight might come in the future, but I don't think what is proposed now will be good for our state.

"We have rules in place at the state level for hydraulic fracturing, but this is asking the federal government to allow our state have jurisdiction."

Steiner, who presented a sample letter to the county commission, said the letter would state that Stark County would like to push back on the federal government on new rules as it relates to Bureau of Land Management land.

"Basically, this is a state's rights issue and states that have adopted hydraulic fracturing rules, that include chemical disclosure, well construction and well-pressure testing, should be exempt from the rule," she said. "Each state is different and North Dakota's horizontal drilling is different than in Pennsylvania or Texas, so we're trying to allow Lynn Helms to keep doing what he's doing."

Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning said it appears the state has a handle on the issue.

"Sounds like a good idea," Henning said about sending a letter to the federal government. "This is an enormous science issue, and Mr. Helms has scientists on it, right?"

"Yes," Steiner said.

"If we were to develop problems, (Helms) would have to come up with regulations," she said. "And if the EPA felt he was not doing an adequate job, they could come in and overstep him, but there isn't any reason to have them overstep him now when we don't have a


Commissioner Russ Hoff agreed with Henning's assessment.

"Our wells here versus wells somewhere else are different," Hoff said. "There's not one big blanket that covers them all."

Steiner said the Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties also asked her to draft a letter on its behalf.

She said a group out of Wyoming wants to gather the letters from oil-producing states in the West and send them to the federal government.

"The EPA study of potential hydraulic fracturing effects on groundwater is not finished, and there are currently no known environmental contamination incidences," Steiner said. "There are cases were wells have methane gas in other states, but we have not had problems in North Dakota and we're trying to tell the federal government to let us continue to do what we're doing and if you have to regulate in other states, so be it. But leave North Dakota to keep regulating in its own manner."