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Mike Nowatzki, Forum News Service, Published January 27 2014

ND ag commissioner still concerned about 'special places' policy

BISMARCK – State Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said Monday he’s “a lot more comfortable” about a proposed policy to minimize the impacts of drilling for oil and gas on special places in North Dakota, but he still has reservations about it.

A group of attorneys and staffers for the three members of the state Industrial Commission – Goehring, Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem – continued working Monday to revise the language of Stenehjem’s proposed “extraordinary places” policy to reflect changes suggested at last week’s commission meeting.

The commission meets Wednesday and may consider adopting the policy, which would make applications to drill in and around any of the 18 special places on Stenehjem’s list subject to possible conditions and a more formal public comment process.

Dalrymple’s legal counsel, Jerod Tufte, said given the volume of comments on the policy, a final version may not be finished by Wednesday, though every effort will be made to have it ready.

Goehring said the revised policy addresses several of his concerns, but he remains worried about its potential effects on private property rights and farmers and fears the list of special places will expand.

“It’s not just about oil development. This is far-reaching. This is setting precedent for all types of activities out there under land use,” he said.

During Monday’s negotiations, Goehring’s staffers pushed for making the public comment process apply only to permits on public land, not private land. Stenehjem resisted the change, and Goehring is expected to raise the issue when the policy comes up for a decision.

Under the revised policy, the public would have 10 calendar days to submit comments on issues such as the well’s location and access roads, reclamation plans, noise, traffic and visual impacts.