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Editorial: Environmental regulations priority in oil country

Sen. John Hoeven introduced legislation last week which says states, not the federal government, are best equipped to be the primary regulators of hydraulic fracturing.

Water does not know state boundaries. Legislation of this nature could lead to a number of problems with enforcement.

Who decides where lines are drawn or which government entity is in charge of wells, pipelines, groundwater, lakes, rivers and the most precious resource?

It's not only contamination, large water withdrawals in a state like North Dakota, which is not overflowing with water, is of concern.

If a spill takes place on the Missouri River in North Dakota and flows into South Dakota and beyond, which state is in charge of regulating this?

The Empower States Act would give states the first ability to respond to any violation because states have a stake in protecting their environment, Hoeven said.

The legislation also would require a federal agency to consult with state, tribe and local state agencies before drafting regulations relating to oil and gas development.

It looks like Hoeven and Stark County officials are on the same page.

In early September, the commission unanimously agreed to send a letter to the federal government requesting that regulation remain with the states.

The bill would strengthen the appeals process of states and tribes by requiring federal courts to "thoroughly review the decision and not just rely on the EPA's findings," according to a news release from Hoeven's office.

The letter idea was proposed to state officials by Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources.

There are many oil-related companies -- big and small -- in the Bakken that are much in-tune to keeping fracking safe and protecting natural resources to the best of their ability when it comes to such a high-powered feat.

Beyond fracking, there are companies that report the smallest drops of foreign fluid on a well site and more-than-ensure it is cleaned up more-than-properly.

However, there are companies that are not so concerned about the environment, but take extra precautions because they don't want to be busted and get charged.

Currently, the North Dakota Attorney General's Office is charging an Executive Drilling oil company executive with a violation of regulations in a case that represents the state's first criminal charge against an oil and gas operator. The first one charged. It's hard to believe it's the first busted.

They say he knowingly violated Industrial Commission rules by directing employees of another company to modify their fracking wastewater dump-site practices.

The state alleges the accused's action could have led drinking water near the Lodgepole formation to be contaminated with salt water.

Local, county and state officials need to keep close eyes on this industry that is overtaking what was once the Wild West of a different form and included: quiet as night fell, little light pollution and sprawling ranches. Now nights are brightened by powerful rig lights, a never-ending flow of semis has taken over many areas of silence, and dust covers a great chunk of agricultural land.

The Clean Water Act passed in 1972 due to a lack of state regulation when the Cuyahoga River, which flows into Lake Erie, caught fire.

The Environmental Protection Agency oversees the Clean Water Act, which is designed to do what it is titled.

Fracking regulations may need to be tightened. More will be known when an EPA study investigating the effects on groundwater is complete.

"The EPA study of potential hydraulic fracturing effects on groundwater is not finished, and there are currently no known environmental contamination incidences," Vicky Steiner, executive director of the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties, said in a previous Press article. " ... 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."

We are going to have to disagree. The state is taking on criminal proceedings for its first criminal charge against an oil and gas operator -- in a state that is the second-largest producer of crude in the country.

Publisher Harvey Brock and Editor Jennifer McBride are on The Dickinson Press Editorial Board.