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"Let's stay on offense" Rep. Armstrong hosts energy roundtable at BSC

The challenges around energy production are many, but so, too, are the solutions. U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong hosted an energy stakeholders roundtable Thursday at Bismarck State College's National Energy Center of Excellence. He was joined by State...

U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, right, hosted a roundtable of North Dakota's energy community at Bismarck State College Thursday, featuring state commissioners, industry leaders, and State Sen. Jessica Unruh (D-33), left. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)
U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, right, hosted a roundtable of North Dakota's energy community at Bismarck State College Thursday, featuring state commissioners, industry leaders, and State Sen. Jessica Unruh (D-33), left. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)

The challenges around energy production are many, but so, too, are the solutions.

U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong hosted an energy stakeholders roundtable Thursday at Bismarck State College's National Energy Center of Excellence.

He was joined by State Sen. Jessica Unruh (D-33), and 12 members of North Dakota's energy community, including state regulators and industry leaders.

"I just want to get ideas of what is working, what we're doing on the ground in North Dakota, and what challenges we face, particularly what challenges we face that I can help you with in Washington, D.C.," Armstrong said.

There are philosophical divides regarding energy, Armstrong said.

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"It's not all Democrat vs. Republican, House vs. Senate," he said. "We continue to become more polarized in producing districts vs. consuming districts."

Mark Fox, MHA Nation tribal chairman, said Fort Berthold Indian Reservation plays a key role in North Dakota's energy development.

"For those who are unsure of where we stand," Fox said, "although Indian Country, where 30% of nonrenewable resources in this country are located, and there are tribes that don't take the position we do, we are one unique reservation nation that takes the position that we do want energy development."

Both region and state benefit from continued and enhanced oil and gas production.

"It means we can get more development, raise the standard of living, so we're proponents of that," Fox said. "We strongly are."

Federal bureaucracy remains a big hurdle, Fox said. Deference to tribal lands is desired, as well as deference in terms of regulation and taxation.

"The priority of the tribe is continued development, but we want continued responsible development," he said. "We think we can move forward, but at the same time, take care of our assets."

A concern shared by oil industry partners is capacity, Fox said.

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"It is one of our top priorities, gas capture, but as our producers will tell you, it's not so easy," he said. "As we move quickly forward into production, into drilling and getting at that crude, flaring is going to occur if we don't have the ability to take that away midstream, and get that captured and moved to market."

North Dakota is ideally suited for greenhouse agricultural production. Such efforts, though, require an investment in infrastructure, namely gas processing systems.

"I see in the future, a great effort being put into growing our produce, our food, indoors, because you can control the climate," Fox said. "Why is it suitable for us? We have a lot of gas and a lot of water."

MHA Nation's council has approved a development budget toward creating an infrastructure for greenhouse power and carbon dioxide capture for products, Fox said.

"We think this is going to spread like wildfire, not just in Indian Country, but throughout North Dakota," he said. "Anything you can do to foster our efforts, it's going to be phenomenal."

He added, "Products that take a week to get here from California or Florida can be grown in these greenhouses."

Gas capture, though, is top priority, Fox emphasized.

"We don't want to see it flare," he said. "When it's flared we impact the environment and nobody gets paid. Taxes can't be collected. We have to capture that gas."

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Armstrong said he was an advocate for primary enforcement responsibility, or "primacy," at the local level.

"Part of the problem up there is, if you have seven different layers of government bureaucracy you're going to create problems, even if you have good intentions," he said. "We need to solve the problem or somebody else is going to step in and solve the problem for us."

Carroll Dewing, North American Coal vice president of operations, said less federal regulation is needed.

Climate change can be solved with technological innovations currently being made in North Dakota's energy plants and mines, Dewing argued.

"Of the U.S. estimate of CO2 in the world, we're about 14 percent of it," he said. "If that's what climate change is about, and that's what we're talking about, and it's not something else, let's take some of the technology and innovations we have here in and let's take that to the rest of the world."

Dewing said China and other nations are behind the United States in such innovations.

"We'll be better off from a climate change standpoint to take some of these technologies in North Dakota and allow it to be used in other places in the world," he said.

Armstrong said these discussions are affected by politics.

"The policies that are being promoted simply export the pollution," he said. "We export this pollution to countries that don't have the regulatory framework we have here. In order to score political points, we will not only put the United States and North Dakota at an economic disadvantage, we'll cause more harm by doing this."

North Dakota has invested $15 billion in gas capture infrastructure, Armstrong noted.

Another $5 billion to $7 billion is needed, though, Lynn Helms, North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources director, said.

"We're maybe two-thirds of the way there, in terms of investment in gas gathering and processing," he said. "That doesn't even touch the transmission or transportation side of the equation."

Cooperative federalism, the interactions between local, state and federal governments, has been ineffective, Helms said.

"It isn't being practiced on a real basis in a real way, and that's impacting us infrastructure-wise and regulatory-wise," he said. "What we need is primacy for tribes and states. Primacy has worked incredibly well with EPA programs, like underground injection or the Clean Air Act."

He added, "The ineffective programs have been these attempts at cooperation or carving out jurisdiction."

One of the big factors in why emissions went up last year after they went down in 2017, along with significant economic growth, was the East Coast's cold winter, Armstrong said.

"They were importing oil because they weren't allowing the pipelines to go through," he said. "It's counterintuitive even to their position."

Unruh described the efforts and discussions that take place at the state legislative level.

"We're a producing state and sometimes that means we have to have regulations and make policies that aren't very popular with industry," she said. "It also means we need to invest in the technologies everyone has talked about here today. And sometimes it means we need to get out of the way so our industries can focus on the technologies we need."

There is a misunderstanding, Armstrong said, about how regulation is perceived among the state's industry and political leaders.

"Regulatory certainty and 'no regulation' are not the same thing," he said. "Everyone here fully understands the industries you participate in are going to be regulated. What you want is certainty."

These leaders also care about their communities, Armstrong said.

"To say that without all these different things that exist all the time that everything would just be terrible isn't the case, because that's not how these industries work," he said, "and we need to continue to carry that message forward."

Related Topics: KELLY ARMSTRONGMARK FOX
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