Industrial Commission considering who can -- and cannot -- comment during oil and gas hearings

Apr 12, 2016

A proposal to define who can and cannot comment during oil and gas hearings is coming under fire. As Prairie Public's Emily Guerin reports, some worry the change would limit public involvement in oil and gas development.

The Department of Mineral Resources is proposing a lot of big changes to state oil and gas regulations. From making it harder for companies to abandon oilfield infrastructure to strengthening spill reporting requirements to trying to prevent spills from leaving the well pad. But at a public hearing in Bismarck on Monday, few people talked about any of those proposed changes. Instead, they commented on the topic of public comment.

 

"Public participation in the development of oil and gas in North Dakota should be more inclusive not more exclusive," said Jan Swenson with the Badlands Conservation Alliance. She’s one of many speakers concerned a proposed change to the definition of “interested party” could make it harder for conservation groups and others to comment on new drilling permits and other oilfield matters.

Under current rules, any “interested party” can come to the state’s monthly oil and gas hearings. But a new rule would define “interested party” as people who own land or have a management interest “in or adjacent to the subject matter.”

"This language appears to limit our agency’s ability to comment on permits that impact national park service sites in North Dakota," said Wendy Ross, the superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.Ross said she frequently attends oil and gas hearings to comment on development not directly adjacent to the park, but within sight of it, and worries she would not be able to do that under the proposed rule. She says it is her duty to maintain intangible park resources like dark skies and quiet -- something she says would be even harder if she could not comment at hearings.

 

"Park resources that reach beyond the authorized boundaries are hard to preserve," said Ross. "And this is the only available state process to address oil and gas impacts on these lands."

 

Alison Ritter is the spokesman for the department of mineral resources. She says they are trying to define a term that has been left vague in the rules for 20 years.

 

"And so that is what we’re looking to get to through this process. Is to create a definition that’s workable and protects the rights of everyone involved," Ritter said. She says the proposed definition of “interested party” is just that -- a proposal, and the department still has three more days of hearings to get feedback.