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N.D. to list 'culturally important' sites for protection from drilling

FARGO -- North Dakota plans to compile a list of "culturally important" places that officials will protect from disturbances from energy development or other impacts.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple and fellow members of the Industrial Commission will visit places this summer for possible inclusion on a list, the governor said.

The effort will complement sites already identified for restrictions or conditions by state Game and Fish, parks and historic preservation officials.

"We're trying to make sure we're not missing something that's not on an existing list," Dalrymple said.

The idea of compiling the new list came after a public uproar this year when it was learned that an oil company had staked a location near the site of Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch, part of the national park in the Badlands that bears his name.

"That sort of sent the feathers flying," Dalrymple said.

"It was sort of an example of how an engineer from an oil company just might not have any consciousness at a certain location," he added, noting that he is confident the site never actually would have been developed.

In another example, drilling in the Killdeer Mountains also sparked protests from ranchers and American Indians concerned about disturbances of important sacred or historic sites.

Horizontal drilling enables recovery of oil two miles -- and even three miles in some locations -- from a well site, offering many opportunities to avoid sensitive areas, Dalrymple said.

"In most cases that works," he said.

Still, there might be instances when an important "view scape" is disturbed by an oil derrick visible from a hiking trail, Dalrymple said.

The idea of such a list was first proposed by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem at a January meeting of the Industrial Commission, composed of the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner.

Since then, the Industrial Commission has received suggestions. Officials also have their own ideas about important places that should be protected by ensuring that any development occurs under certain conditions, Dalrymple said.

Mike McEnroe of Bismarck, a wildlife habitat advocate, said he has submitted suggestions. He would like to see more public involvement in nominating locations.

"Let's have the discussion," he said, adding that he has thanked Stenehjem for the idea.

Management of the listed areas could dovetail with the new Outdoor Heritage Fund, which allows up to $30 million per biennium to be set aside from oil and gas revenues for conservation projects, he said.

Once compiled, the list of important areas will be disseminated with a property description, putting energy companies or others on notice.

"I don't know what that will amount to," Dalrymple said of the list, although it probably would focus on lands with a state role, including surface or mineral ownership.

"We might look at a larger area than one or two sections," he said. A section of land is 640 acres, or one square mile.

Stephen Adair, director of Ducks Unlimited's Great Plains office in Bismarck, a proponent of the Outdoor Heritage Fund, said the list of significant areas is welcome.

"I think it's great," he said. "I'm really glad they're open to that type of effort. I think that's a very healthy dialogue for the state to think about."

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to