North Dakota panel deciding oil field protection sites

FARGO, N.D. — A divided North Dakota Industrial Commission soon will decide whether to designate special places subject to development restrictions that would protect them from oil drilling or other development.

The commission has discussed the issue for half a year, and Gov. Jack Dalrymple proposed more than 40 candidate sites during a tour in August, The Forum reported.

Candidate sites include Little Missouri State Park, Killdeer Mountain, roadless areas in the Little Missouri National Grasslands and the units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem also is compiling a list and formulating a policy for extraordinary places that also will include the Little Missouri River as it winds through the western North Dakota badlands.

But the commission’s third member, state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, said he is not in favor of such lists.

“When you talk about special places, I would consider all of North Dakota special,” Goehring said.

Goehring said drilling permits should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

“I would say we’re doing a good job of doing that, making sure there are stipulations that it’s developed in a responsible manner,” the agriculture commissioner said.

Stenehjem planned to present his proposal to fellow commission members at a Nov. 18 meeting, but said it’s more likely he will do so at a meeting set for Dec. 19.

“There’s a lot of beautiful areas out there,” Stenehjem said.

The attorney general said the commission, which approves drilling permits, already imposes restrictions to try to minimize impacts. But he said the case-by-case decisions lack a formal procedure.

Stenehjem said he’s working on a plan with requirements set out in administrative rules that, if passed under emergency provisions, could take effect early next year.

Public hearings and opportunities for public comment are included in the rule-making process, the attorney general said. Some conservation advocates have complained that the process of designating special places so far has not been open to public participation.

Restrictions could include requiring wells to be located a long distance from special places or requiring pipe placement to avoid flaring natural gas, he said.

Stenehjem said he has met informally with representatives of the oil industry and conservation groups to ensure support for his proposal.

In reviewing permits, the commission must balance the rights of mineral owners against the duty to protect landscapes, he said.

A list of special places and procedures for developing around the sites would give the oil industry greater clarity about how to operate in certain areas, Stenehjem said.

Goehring said he is worried that if certain places are designated as special, restrictions on agricultural land could eventually result.