FOTB: Missing rural North Dakota; Leaders of landowner group active at Capitol
BISMARCK - Farmers Myron Hanson and Troy Coons miss the rural North Dakota they used to know. That's why they're volunteering their time at the state Capitol this legislative session to advocate for farmers and ranchers who are being significantly affected by the oil boom.
"The impact on a small number of people that are bearing the burden of this is huge," said Hanson, a third-generation farmer who lives near Souris. "There are some pretty serious consequences on the lifestyles of some of these individuals."
Hanson and Coons are chairman and vice chairman of the Northwest Landowners Association, a group that was informally established six years ago and is now more organized than ever with about 400 members.
The group supports oil development but wants to see it managed in a way that is fair to landowners and preserves natural resources. The association has worked to introduce and support several bills this session, with Hanson and Coons attending hearings at the Capitol almost every week of the session.
"We as individuals cannot match the budgets these oil companies have. They have armies of lawyers and deep pockets," Hanson said. "If you are going to effect change, the easiest way to do it is through the legislative process."
One of their priorities has been working to get oversight of pipelines that carry salt water, a byproduct of oil and gas development that can be very damaging to cropland if it's spilled or a pipeline breaks.
They also supported proposals to require oil wells to be located farther away from homes than the current setback of 500 feet. That effort was not receiving support, so they're now in favor of a compromise that would require the flare and production equipment to be farther away.
Coons, who farms near Donnybrook, said he worries about how the land that's being developed for oil wells and associated facilities will be restored in the future. He advocated for a bill that would have added more standards for land reclamation for private land.
The bill was defeated, but the landowner group plans to continue working on improving land reclamation standards by working with soil experts in the state, Coons said.
Although they often disagree with the oil industry, the association leaders said they aim to work with industry representatives to find common ground.
"It's really important that we become recognized as a group that can talk to people, that we're not just throwing stones at everything," Hanson said.