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Group worries North Dakota is getting too close to oil

An environmental advocacy group on Friday criticized the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources for urging residents to visit a public comment site facilitated by what it called a "front group" for the oil and gas industry.

An environmental advocacy group on Friday criticized the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources for urging residents to visit a public comment site facilitated by what it called a "front group" for the oil and gas industry.

On the homepage of its website, the department's Oil and Gas Division provided a link to provide public comment to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Please TAKE ACTION NOW by telling EPA you support increased oil and natural gas production -- and the use of hydraulic fracturing: a time-tested, safe process that helps us access more of our own reserves," the website advised.

The state website linked to a comment site by Energy Citizens, which the Dakota Resource Council on Friday called a "front group" for the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas lobbying group.

"For our government to not only promote an industry position, but to ask that citizens agree is irresponsible," said Donny Nelson of Keene, chairman of the resource council's oil and gas task force.

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Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, defended the comment link, saying it was intended as a convenience for residents and not promoting an industry point of view.

"This isn't just an industry position," Helms said. "It's clearly a position of the state of North Dakota that we should regulate hydraulic fracturing and the EPA should not."

Before posting the comment link to Energy Citizen, Helms said he was unable to find any means to submit public comment directly to the EPA via the Internet. He only found a reference to a meeting in Denver.

"We as a state just happen to agree with industry's position in this case," Helms said. "We are not promoting an industry position."

The use of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called "fracking," is controversial, and has been cited elsewhere in the country as the cause of groundwater contamination.

Although the state site provides a pop-up disclaimer for those hitting the link, disclosing that the linked site is outside state government, the Dakota Resource Council said the disclaimer was inadequate.

Helms, who has been vocal in arguing that the state does a better job than the federal government could do in monitoring hydraulic fracturing, said that is an official position of the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

Springer is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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