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Proposed public input rule catches more ire

Roger Kelley, director of regulatory affairs for Continental Resources and regulatory chairman of the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance industry group, testified in favor of more stringent definitions of oilfield terms during a Department of Mineral Resources public hearing Tuesday in Dickinson. (Andrew Haffner / The Dickinson Press)1 / 2
From left, Bruce Hicks, assistant director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Oil and Gas Division, Hope Hogan, assistant attorney general, and Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources hear testimony from members of the public on Tuesday in Dickinson. (Andrew Haffner / The Dickinson Press)2 / 2

Mark Trechock, the former executive director of the Dakota Resource Council, used the word "ashamed" Tuesday when giving his testimony against a proposed North Dakota oil and gas regulatory rule that could limit public input on energy industry actions in the state.

Trechock and other southwest North Dakotans who are against the proposal to change the state Department of Mineral Resources rule spoke out Tuesday at a public hearing in Dickinson, the second of four scheduled public hearings in the state.

The proposed rule addresses a process by which an "interested party" may submit "written comments on or objections to the application" for projects. The contested proposal is the definition of an "interested party" as an individual or group that has a "property ownership or management interest in or adjacent" to the site in question.

Trechock, who is from Dickinson, testified that the slowdown in the oil economy provided a "reprieve" in which regulators could improve industry oversight. He said the proposed definition wouldn't do that and that he was "ashamed" to see it come forward.

"Making new rules to restrict our state citizens from bringing their knowledge and their insights and their experience to oil and gas hearings based on where they live is nothing more than burying our heads in the sand," he said.

Valerie Naylor, the former superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, also spoke out against the proposal as a private consultant representing the National Parks Conservation Association.

She said the word "'adjacent' is vague in a land of wide open spaces."

"I've never observed testimony from uninterested parties," she said. "Only from industry and a very limited number of agencies and nonprofit organizations."

The meeting was organized by the Department of Mineral Resources to gather input on a set of rules that also included revised bonding requirements and construction guidelines for saltwater gathering pipelines, as well as stipulations for third-party inspections.

The first meeting, held Monday in Bismarck, drew similar objection to the proposed definition and little response to the other content. Moving on from Dickinson, the delegation from the department will hold similar hearings in Williston today and Minot on Thursday.

Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said the definition of an interested party has so far been the "No. 1 concern" at the hearings.

"We've been getting lots and lots of comments to the effect that we should not do anything that restricts the rights of the public to comment on the cases and work that we're considering," Helms said.

While there has been some feedback to the pipeline rules, he said the bulk of that commentary is expected to come in the form of written submissions.

The intent of the proposed "interested party" definition, he said, was to provide some indicator of "levels of legal standing" to be used when assessing applications by private parties to conduct development.

"Some parties are going to submit comments and are encouraging the commission to try to define levels, where if you're directly affected or directly an owner, your level of consideration should be higher than if you're a few miles away and just a member of the public," Helms said.

He noted the definition will ultimately be subject to the decision of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, made up of Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring—all elected officials who Helms noted could be "pretty responsive" to voter opinion.

In Dickinson, some attendants spoke to the definition from within the industry as they addressed other parts of the proposed rules.

Mineral rights owner Dan Feragen said he had concerns about whether or not he would be considered an interested party if the definition was adopted.

"In my mind, a mineral owner should definitely be, in most matters," he said.

Robert Rubey, a vice president and cofounder of saltwater injection and transporting firm 1804 Operating, spoke mainly to the other rules that pertained more directly to his business.

However, Rubey also said he would advocate to move away from using "adjacent" and might instead "come up with a radius and make that broad."

"I've never felt that anybody came and commented on what I was trying to do in a way that was superfluous," he said of his experience with the public input process.

Fellow industry representative Roger Kelley, director of regulatory affairs for Continental Resources and regulatory chairman of the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance industry group, testified in favor of greater definition in other parts of the rule set beyond the interested parties.

One example Kelley provided at the hearing was the need to account for variation of pipelines, such as to differentiate between gathering lines and flow lines. He said his group would be submitting "some pretty extensive comments" to the department and spoke favorably of the regulatory effort.

"A lot of people get the idea that the industry doesn't want to be regulated—we need to be regulated, all industry needs to be regulated to a point," Kelley said. "We just want to make sure we're regulating things that will do some good and be effective."

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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