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Mike Nowatzki, Forum News Service, Published March 04 2014

Grand Forks state senator grills firm on oil impact study

BISMARCK – A Bismarck-based engineering firm hired to study the future impacts of North Dakota’s oil and gas industry came under fire Tuesday from a Grand Forks Democrat who blasted the company for not sharing information with lawmakers.

“This is not your private game,” Sen. Connie Triplett told representatives of KLJ after their presentation to the Legislature’s interim Energy Development and Transmission Committee.

The committee hired KLJ for the study in October, choosing the company over a New York-based firm, The Louis Berger Group.

Triplett supported the Berger Group’s proposal, saying it had better modeling capabilities and questioning whether lawmakers were being too provincial in choosing KLJ, which receives a majority of its business from the Bakken oil-producing region of western North Dakota.

Mike Wamboldt, project manager for KLJ, updated the committee Tuesday on the first phase of the four-phase, $125,000 study. The work involved gathering data and developing baseline assumptions for the study, which will look at industry impacts from 2014 to 2019.

Triplett, an attorney, grilled KLJ representatives after they said they planned to submit their draft assumptions to industry experts and government agency heads for validation but wouldn’t be making them available to lawmakers at the same time.

She said members of the committee funding the study also should be able to comment on the draft assumptions.

The study contract calls for the committee to pay KLJ at the completion of each phase, but Triplett said she wouldn’t support paying KLJ until she had seen the draft assumptions.

“This is a public process, and so I think that’s a serious issue for me, and I would request that we see it before it goes out so that we know where you’re going with this study,” she said. “This isn’t a study done behind our backs in private.”

Sandi Tabor, director of government relations for KLJ, said that while the firm was sensitive to Triplett’s concerns, “this is a work in progress which requires validation, and we don’t want assumptions that haven’t been validated circulating around because of the potential that they have to misinform people of what’s going on.”

Tabor said the committee will see the assumptions as part of the Phase 2 report to be presented at the committee’s next meeting April 8 in Minot. Triplett pressed her for an estimate of how many industry representatives would first review the assumptions, and Tabor put the number roughly at 10 to 15.

“And those 10 to 15 people are going to keep it all a secret from the whole world, but you can’t trust the committee?” Triplett said.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, stopped the questioning and said the committee will see the assumptions but probably not as soon as Triplett would like.

“I mean, at some point we’re going to weigh in on this big time. And it may not be today. But the next meeting I would expect a lot of these things to be vetted by then,” he said.

Tabor agreed.

“When we bring things to you, we will have at least the best that we can bring to you at this point,” she said.

The committee decided not to pay KLJ the $25,000 for the first phase of the study until after it sees the assumptions at its April 8 meeting. But that didn’t satisfy Triplett, who said after the meeting that she had requested a meeting with the attorney general to discuss whether the committee has a right to the information before then.

“This is our study,” she said. “We need to know what assumptions they’re making now before they get further along in the study.”


Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.