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Published January 25 2014

Forum editorial: Oil group’s reaction is overkill

When, in response to the Dec. 30 oil train wreck near Casselton, N.D., the chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party sagely suggested the pace of oil development should be re-examined, a major oil company player in the Bakken said no one should “overreact.” State GOP Chairman Bob Harms did not overreact.

However, it was the tone-deaf oil and gas industry that took the trophy last week for overreaction. Talk about overkill.

When Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem brought his “extraordinary places” initiative to the Industrial Commission (on which he serves with the governor and ag commissioner), the reaction from an out-of-state royalty owners organization was crazily out of proportion to the AG’s modest proposal. The Oklahoma-based Royalty Owners and Producers Education Coalition, implying it was speaking for North Dakota royalty owners, went positively ballistic in its criticism. Not only did the group misrepresent what Stenehjem is trying to do, it also misrepresented its membership. A quick search revealed the organization is a front for the industry (nothing wrong with that), and its officers and directors are not North Dakota royalty owners but have direct connections with and financial interests in oil companies doing business in North Dakota and elsewhere.

The news release the group sent out was a ham-handed litany of Chicken Little-like scenarios that have no credible relation to the truth of the attorney general’s blueprint. It was a clumsy scare tactic that suggested the industry is not interested in even minimal protections for the state’s land and water from the encroachments of unprecedented industrial-scale energy development.

On that score, the Oklahoma-based “Education Coalition” (now that’s a laugh) is not doing the oil industry in North Dakota any good. If a relatively timid attempt to protect “extraordinary places” from oil development damage is anathema to the oil companies, they are courting a public relations nightmare.

Scare tactics aside, the AG’s initiative (since modified and endorsed by the other members of the Industrial Commission) in no way would prevent mineral owners from developing their oil and gas. All the plan recommends is that special care be taken to minimize damage at specific unique natural landscapes, such as the lands immediately adjacent to the wild and scenic Little Missouri River. Gov. Jack Dalrymple said it best last week:

“I think what you (Stenehjem) have brought to us here is a very worthwhile concept, and I think we need to find a way to make this work.”

The oil industry should get on board. The industry’s responsibility is clear. The nature of the boom guarantees land and water will be damaged. Why not work with the state and landowners to minimize the damage, while still getting at the oil? That’s a far better option than sending out hatchet men from Oklahoma to take a whack at a popular and competent four-term attorney general.


Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.