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Scott Hennen, Published September 25 2011

Hennen: Purdon wages war on North Dakota oil

Elections have consequences.

Take the recent overreach of Tim Purdon, the President Barack Obama-appointed U.S. attorney in North Dakota. Last year, I warned on these pages of how reckless it was to select a candidate devoid of much-needed law enforcement experience. Nonetheless, Purdon was nominated, and for the first time in history, a sitting member of the Democratic National Committee ascended to the rank of top federal law enforcement official in our state. Can somebody tell me what his qualifications were? Besides lining the campaign coffers of Democratic candidates, that is.

Now our economy is about to pay a price for a political move – an economy that is the envy of the nation, thanks to a strong agricultural industry and a historic oil boom. President Obama claims to offer a path to more jobs, but we have real opportunities here: North Dakota has thousands of openings generated by a robust oil industry. They’re hiring at a ferocious pace and paying employees about double the national manufacturing average salary, yet the Obama administration’s disdain for the fossil fuel industry continues.

Up to this point, the war on oil meant simply advocating for more regulation and higher taxation. But on Thursday, representatives of seven oil companies entered a federal courtroom to face unprecedented criminal charges. Their crimes? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found 28 dead birds over a 45-day period this past summer. Purdon issued a statement saying that “the allegations should be troubling to those interested in preserving North Dakota’s rich heritage of hunting and fishing.” Why? I’d say when you have record levels of drilling (plus a catastrophic flood after a brutal winter) and all you can find are four dead birds per site, it means the big bad oil men are protecting plenty of wildlife.

A report by the American Bird Conservancy tells us that windmills kill 275,000 birds per year. We have our share of this new energy source in North Dakota. Has anyone noticed federal criminal charges filed against wind farms? No? Me neither.

Here’s the bottom line: This is nothing more than a politically motivated war on oil. A day after a positive Bakken report was televised on CNBC, Purdon issued a press release damning these companies. In fact, it was the media – not a law enforcement agency – who alerted the companies to the allegations. And was it a coincidence that the court appearances were scheduled on the same day as Purdon’s “Environmental Enforcement Training Conference” warning North Dakota’s law enforcement to watch out for “laws applicable to the increased oil production activities”? Not a chance.

State and local regulators, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have a history of enforcing the environmental laws in cooperation with the oil industry. Now, 28 dead birds are worthy of federal criminal charges. Outrageous.

North Dakota’s U.S. attorney needs to leave politics to the president and Congress.


Hennen, Fargo, is chairman of the Common Sense/Scott Hennen (radio) Show and president of Freedom Force Communications.