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Senators reject bill to separate promotion, regulation of oil industry

BISMARCK - Senators voted 32-15 Friday against a bill that would have separated the North Dakota Industrial Commission's duties to promote and regulate oil development.

BISMARCK – Senators voted 32-15 Friday against a bill that would have separated the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s duties to promote and regulate oil development.

The vote fell along party lines, with Republicans voting to reject the bill that would have shifted some duties of the Industrial Commission to the Department of Commerce.

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 2366, offered an amendment that would have simply removed the word “promotion” from the job description of the Department of Mineral Resources.

Triplett said the intent of the bill is to address the notion that it’s a conflict of interest for the director to be expected to both promote and regulate oil.

“I think it probably was a reasonable statement of intent in 1953 when North Dakota was newly in the business of competing for oil development resources,” Triplett said. “All these many years later, I think it’s time that we should change slightly the focus.”

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Triplett’s amendment would have eliminated the portions of her bill that shifted duties of the Geological Survey and other entities to the Department of Commerce. The bill as introduced received a do-not-pass recommendation from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a 5-2 vote, also along party lines.

Senators rejected the amendment in a voice vote before voting against the original bill.

Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, urged lawmakers to oppose both the bill and the amendment.

Committee members considered all testimony and decided the bill is not in the best interest of North Dakota, Armstrong said.

“Our Department of Mineral Resources is a fine agency. They have a difficult job,” Armstrong said. “They wear many hats and they do these jobs with diligence and dignity.”

Triplett said her bill was not an indictment of Lynn Helms, the director of the Department of Mineral Resources, or any members of the Industrial Commission. But she said she lost faith in the regulatory process during recent discussions about the volatility of Bakken crude that followed fiery train derailments.

“In the end, it felt to me that there was a conflict of interest on this very, very important topic about promoting our oil versus regulating this industry,” Triplett said.

Armstrong said there’s a misconception about how the word promotion is used in the language. He said it refers to the promotion of responsible development and encouraging new technology.

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“This bill is all about perception and not one bit about policy,” Armstrong said.

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