Dem NPL leaders: Separate regulation of oil from promotion
Democratic legislative leaders believe the regulation responsibilities of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms need to be separated from his promotional ones.
Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider (D-Grand Forks) says the Industrial Commission needs to put a firewall between the two roles, and that legislation needs to be introduced to permanently separate the two "incompatible" functions. Schneider says for Helms to wear both hats is a conflict of interest, and promotion should perhaps be handled by a separate body.
"What would be a good starting place is what was identified by Gov. Jack Dalrymple in the 2011 executive budget," said Schneider. "And that would be to create another division, in the Department of Commerce, that would be charged with promotion of energy. That would leave the regulatory function in the Department of Mineral Resources."
Schneider says that would make a clear dividing line between promotion and regulation.
"That's the only sensible way forward," said Schneider.
Helms says he believes his department has been doing a good job of regulating the industry.
"My primary job is a regulator," said Helms. "That's demonstrated by the fact we're in the process of implementing 40 new rule changes. Every one of them toughens or strengthens a rule the Oil and Gas division has."
Helms says because of his expertise, he’s asked to make predictions on oil production and to speak about industry issues – but he doesn’t consider himself a promoter.
Helms says some people have taken a quote from his testimony to a Legislative interim committee out of context – to try and show that he and his department do not care about safety when it comes to the oil industry. The quote deals with moving oil by rail. Helms told the committee that he would support a study – with the intention of showing that Bakken crude is no more volatile than other forms of crude. It came to light again – in the wake of the Casselton derailment.
"During the time I've been here, the Department has adopted the strictest hydraulic fracturing rules in the nation," said Helms. "Also, the strictest drilling pit rules in the nation. And we're about to adopt the only set of underground gathering pipeline rules in the nation."
Helms says a study is underway – being done by federal regulators – about the safety of shipping oil by rail. And he says he is a firm believer that rail can be transported safely by rail.
"What I hope comes out of the study is how to properly handle and move Bakken crude oil by rail," said Helms. "I am a firm believer that it is technologically possible that rail cars can be designed or retrofitted. Technically, it can be done."