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Letter: Don't ignore land during development

As oil/gas facilities build out in North Dakota, further permanent harm to agricultural land must be prevented, while ensuring the land can be returned to an economically productive agricultural status.

Undoubtedly thousands of agricultural land acres will be displaced by oil well pads, roads, tank batteries, man camps, permanent waste facilities, etc., in the near future.

Of great concern is that existing regulatory policies and laws (overseen/enforced by North Dakota Industrial Commission Oil and Gas Division and the North Dakota Health Department) are outdated, without uniform regulations and reclamation standards in place.

Regulations were developed when there were very few rigs drilling, only 25-30 percent became producing wells, and production was much less. More troubling, permanent damage occurs at alarming rates via saltwater spills from pipeline ruptures, tank overflows, rusted-out treaters/equipment, illegal dumping and other careless oil field activities.

Though sometimes unavoidable, many "accidents" are caused by negligence, faulty/improperly maintained equipment, hasty task completion, ignoring established safety measures, don't-care attitudes and operator error.

Saltwater spill damage is nearly impossible to repair; various solutions used in North Dakota have had unsatisfactory outcomes. Excavating severely damaged soil, hauling to designated facilities and replacing with nontoxic clay and topsoil can cost $1 million/acre, with much contamination still remaining.

With each spill, salt remains in the soil, leaving the land permanently unusable for productive agriculture. Saltwater is not just water. As well production increases monthly, so does saltwater production.

Strict enforcement of updated, appropriate policies and regulations could prevent or minimize most accidents. Reported spills garner little attention, perhaps due to insufficient resources, staffing deficiencies, inadequate fines, low regulatory department priorities and enforcement difficulties.

North Dakota agencies must develop regulations/policies addressing today's technologies and practices. True reform must provide real consequences for violators, perhaps broadening enforcement by levying immediate fines and rewarding those who report violations, mimicking other state agencies.

Now is the time for North Dakota to move forward to protect our agricultural community's future. Consisting of many third- and fourth-generation farmers and ranchers, this new generation can co-exist with responsible development of North Dakota's irreplaceable natural resources, deserving protection by appropriate state regulation and enforcement and recognizing the changing scope and pace of today's oil production activity.

Preservation of our land -- one of North Dakota's most valued natural resources -- should not be ignored during this development.

Northwest Landowners Executive Board Chairman Myron Hanson,Souris; Vice Chairman Troy Coons, Donnybrook; Secretary Galen Peterson, Maxbass; Treasurer Bob Grant, Berthold