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Ken Ziegler, Bismarck, Published September 07 2013

Letter: North Dakota must learn lesson from energy booms of the past

Most of us in North Dakota have benefited from the oil development in the Bakken, but recent editorials and articles in the state’s major newspapers made me think back to the “lignite boom” of the 1970s and ’80s. The essence of the editorials was to possibly slow down the development because of the flaring of about 30 percent of the natural gas – a terrible economic waste and environmental disaster.

There was a far different approach on lignite, illustrated by then-Gov. Art Link’s “go-slow” policy. Instead of granting all water permits for gasification and power plants, Link said let’s issue a few permits with stringent but workable conditions and see how the industry can work with state, county and city government to minimize the impacts of what was considered pretty massive population growth in Mercer, Oliver and McLean counties and the Bismarck-Mandan area.

By demanding that industry work together with government, things came out pretty nicely. Towns weren’t overwhelmed, and the permanent high-paying jobs have been great for the state. Reclamation was proved to be possible, and the air, land and water were protected.

Let’s contrast that period of time with today’s oil boom. Granted, there are a lot more players drilling, so it is more complicated to regulate the effects, but we have seen what the wide- open throttle of granting permits in 25 days looks like. I suggest we slow this process down, demand that local officials be given an opportunity to be involved in the permit conditions, and reduce the flaring of a precious resource now. Another condition might state that all radioactive waste must be accounted for now rather than waiting for the results of a legislative study done by the oil industry.

Many of you will remember Link’s famous speech titled “When the Draglines Are Quiet Again.” He ended that statement with the thought that our grandchildren need to say we did our job well. I wonder if our grandchildren will be able to say the same about our current government officials and legislators.

A clean, livable western North Dakota is a far more important legacy than any legacy fund.