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Published September 09 2010

US House challenger Rick Berg offers oil drilling as answer

Drilling for oil underneath western North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park and other federal lands nationwide could be a way to ensure Social Security funding for the long haul, Republican U.S. House challenger Rick Berg said.

During a meeting with The Forum’s editorial board Wednesday, Berg discussed his ideas for how to make the Social Security system viable for future generations. He said one option is drilling for oil and other mineral resources on federal government land.

“There’s a huge opportunity right now to take those mineral assets that are on the federal government’s balance sheet and shift them to Social Security,” Berg told the editorial board.

He said the national economy also needs to improve so more Americans will have jobs and pay into the system.

Money gained from more drilling on federal land would amount to “billions of dollars” from North Dakota resources alone, Berg said. He did not have specific data available on Wednesday.

The federal government already allows drilling on some public land, including the national grasslands in western North Dakota.

But drilling is banned in national parks with only a few exceptions – and Theodore Roosevelt National Park isn’t among them, park Superintendent Valerie Naylor said.

“Drilling is not allowed in national parks, as a general rule,” she said. “It’s important that we preserve the land for future generations.”

But Berg said he would include national parks – and specifically, Theodore Roosevelt National Park – when discussing areas of untapped mineral resources the U.S. government could use.

“I think they could do horizontal drilling in there, yes,” Berg told the editorial board, but added, “My first approach would be to deal with the federal mineral interests that the federal government has right now that wouldn’t take a law change.”

After the meeting, Berg clarified his statement to emphasize that he wants to see the drilling done outside the national park and pipes bored horizontally underneath it to tap into the oil deposits.

Democratic-NPL incumbent Rep. Earl Pomeroy called Berg’s proposal “deeply flawed in several respects.”

Horizontal drilling would still include necessary infrastructure above ground to extract the oil, Pomeroy said, which would impair the park’s attractive landscape and North Dakota’s tourism industry.

“It’s not as though you can perch all around the park and have a 15-mile pipe. It doesn’t work like that,” Pomeroy said. “It would completely change this protected national asset and a North Dakota jewel.”

Pomeroy said he supports drilling in the North Dakota grasslands and other federal lands across the country whose mineral resources haven’t been fully utilized, but any drilling involving Theodore Roosevelt National Park is “a stunningly bad idea.”

Berg told the editorial board his proposal was just one way the government could add more money into the Social Security system.

“It needs to be solvent, and I’m supporting putting more money in that – mineral money in there – and getting people working again,” he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541