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John Heiser, Published March 02 2013

Letter: Big Oil running our state

If what is going on in both the executive and legislative branches of state government with regard to rampant oil development in western North Dakota wasn’t so outrageous, it might be considered amusing. It is becoming clearer by the day that Big Oil is running our fair state, meaning their rafts of well-heeled lobbyists are having their way across the spectrum of state government.

On the legislative side, that our elected representatives are even considering lowering taxes on oil companies is an outrage at a time when gasoline and diesel prices are soaring. I’d go so far as to say that those taxes ought to be increased, if for no other reason than to dampen the disproportionate effects associated with a completely crazed oil boom.

Further, this Legislature needs to enact legislation that essentially ceases the ridiculous wasting of the millions of cubic feet of natural gas being flared every day, enough to heat 500,000 American homes, it is commonly said. How can it be that the nationwide percentage of flared gas is 1 to 3 percent, and ours is 29 percent or more? No wonder, then, that the state politicians and oil industry people are not bragging that North Dakota has the very dubious distinction of being No. 1 in the nation for flaring (wasting) of natural gas. That silliness is costing royalty owners and state government millions of dollars of income and tax receipts. By now I’d guess as well that most North Dakotans have also seen the night sky maps of Earth that show northwestern North Dakota lit up like the cities of Denver or Minneapolis. This occurring in a state with conservative values?

Of course the state’s executive branch could choose to enforce existing rules and regulations regarding all aspects of oil and gas development, instead of granting endless exemptions so that oil companies can continue to wreak havoc with the communities and landscapes of western North Dakota. Perhaps the state could actually enforce statutes like N.D. Century Code 38-08-03, which says, without exception, that “waste of oil and gas is prohibited.” Perhaps, too, the executive branch would cease its relentless quest to stifle any and all dissent within the ranks of state government so that voices of concern therein could be heard loud and clear over the din of oil development and the oil lobbyist money rattling all over Bismarck.

And with Big Oil pretty much running the show in Bismarck, I’d also like to know who exactly is representing native western North Dakotans, the majority of whom are more than a little displeased with the oil-caused chaos that envelopes us every day and night.

Imagine, if you will, visionary leadership that shows some real concern over the mess the oil industry is creating all over western North Dakota, and in our state government.


Heiser is a Badlands naturalist, backcountry ranger in the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and fourth generation cattle rancher. He lives on Ranch Creek between Grassy Butte, N.D., and the Killdeer Mountains.