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ND Oilfield Protection Plan Under Fire

Wed, 01/22/2014 - 10:39am
JAMES MacPHERSON, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — An Oklahoma-based oil industry group is urging royalty owners in North Dakota to fight a proposal designed to lessen the impacts of oil development in the western part of the state.

The Tulsa-based Royalty Owners and Producers Education Coalition said in a statement posted online that the plan under review by the North Dakota Industrial Commission would erode property rights and threaten landowners' earnings from oil development. The so-called special or extraordinary places plan would subject certain plots of land with historic, scenic, recreational, spiritual or other significance to development restrictions.

"Your property rights and royalty checks are at serious risk!" the group said in a statement that urges Gov. Jack Dalrymple to oppose the idea. "If you thought a royalty check was coming your way, your wells may not be drilled."

The North Dakota Industrial Commission, which regulates oil and gas development in the state, is slated to discuss the proposal on Wednesday. Dalrymple, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem — all Republicans — make up the commission.

The idea was unveiled last month by Stenehjem, who submitted a list of 18 proposed special places on private and public land, including the Little Missouri River National Grasslands and Lake Sakakawea.

Stenehjem said the Industrial Commission already has restrictions in place to minimize impacts from oil drilling, but decisions need a formal requirement for public comment.

"I understand private people own mineral acres and they have the legal right to develop them," Stenehjem said. But, he said, "It could be done in a more transparent way."

Jerry Simmons, the Oklahoma group's executive vice president, said it's by six oil companies, including billionaire oilman Harold Hamm's Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources Inc., one the oldest and biggest operators in North Dakota, drilling there for more than two decades.

Simmons said his group has determined that nearly 1 million acres of private property would be affected if the proposal is approved.

"We are all about private property rights," Simmons said. "Protections are already in the current permitting process."

Stehenjem's proposal also has drawn criticism from fellow Industrial Commission member Goehring, farm groups, Rep. Roscoe Streyle. R-Minot, and Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson. Armstrong, in a letter to the commission, said Stenehjem's proposal "exceeds the scope" of the body's authority.

Jeff Zent, a spokesman for Dalrymple, said the governor's office has received numerous telephone calls, emails and letters opposing the plan.

Zent said Dalrymple is "looking forward to having a discussion" on the proposal. "The whole process is still in the works," Zent said.

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