Published January 21 2011
North Dakota lawmakers pass fracking bill as safeguard against possible future problems with EPABISMARCK – North Dakota is going on the defense to protect the state’s oil industry.
A committee of state lawmakers unanimously approved a bill Thursday that states hydraulic fracturing is an acceptable recovery process in North Dakota.
Lawmakers feel it’s important to have a defensive measure in case there are problems down the road with the Environmental Protection Agency or another agency, said Rep. Duane DeKrey, R-Pettibone.
“The purpose of this bill is to have this in our Century Code that the people of North Dakota are comfortable with hydraulic fracturing,” said DeKrey, the primary bill sponsor.
About 95 percent of the wells drilled in North Dakota now use hydraulic fracturing, said Lynn Helms, director of the state’s Department of Mineral Resources.
“Any attempt to stop or declare a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing would be devastating to our economy and to the economy of the oil and gas industry,” he said.
DeKrey said he’s heard rumblings that his bill is trying to get around regulations. The bill “in no way” prevents any agencies in North Dakota from regulating the oil and gas industry, nor does it change what they’re doing now, he said.
“It’s just a statement of support by the people of North Dakota for hydraulic fracturing out in the western part of the state,” he said.
Environmentalists and the EPA want more information and tighter regulation on hydraulic fracturing, which has the oil industry and North Dakota officials concerned.
Hydraulic fracturing is the process of creating fractures in shale rock formations through the high-pressure injection of fluids deep underground, allowing more oil and gas to flow out of the formation.
Industry officials insist the process is environmentally sound.
Some environmentalists, however, fault oil and gas companies for not fully disclosing chemicals used in fracking, and they raise questions about its potential impact on water supplies.
Mike McEnroe of the North Dakota Chapter of the Wildlife Society was the lone person to oppose the bill at Thursday’s hearing.
“Largely because it seems to codify a contemporary opinion,” he said. “Fracking is already acceptable in North Dakota. It’s been done. So do we have to codify what’s already been done?”
The chapter doesn’t oppose the oil and gas industry, energy development or fracking. But it doesn’t see how the industry is affected one way or another by the bill, he said.
Lawmakers felt otherwise. The bill now moves to the full House with a do-pass recommendation.
Grand Forks Herald reporter Chuck Haga contributed to this report
Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.