Smart Oversight is Long Overdue

It is long past due for the State of North Dakota to be smart about energy oversight. On December 6th an oil pipeline leak was discovered near Belfield, ND. The “significant” leak that impacted a tributary of the Little Missouri River was found by a landowner according to reports. Sound familiar? It should.

One of the largest oil spills in state history happened on a farm near Tioga, ND, in 2013. The approximate 20,000 barrels and contaminated land are still being cleaned up today. The leak was discovered by the landowner when oil covered his tractor tires after passing through his field.

Our landowners and farmers should not be the first line of defense to environmental impacts of the energy industry. No doubt it is important they remain vigilant to any unexpected impacts or accidents that do occur. But as a state, we need to do our best to ensure the industry is preventing such instances and mitigating the impacts felt by our agricultural neighbors.

There are at least five things the new Burgum administration and the 65th Legislative Assembly can do to improve our oversight.

    1. Consolidate and streamline pipeline oversight into one agency. Immediately following the Tioga spill in 2013, PSC member Brian Kalk stated:

      “There is such a quagmire of jurisdictional responsibility for pipelines; it’s a challenge when an incident occurs and who is responsible to do the investigation to see what happened.”

      There are approximately five state agencies along with the federal government that has some jurisdiction over pipelines in ND. Consolidation would potentially eliminate confusion for landowners, the public, and the industry itself. It also lends itself to reducing the size of state government by eliminating duplication of services.

    2. Find a way to ensure the newest technology is being used to monitor pipelines. There have been attempts in previous legislative sessions to accomplish this but rational concerns have been raised about boxing the industry into one form of technology over another. We need to avoid that as technology rapidly evolves. Satellite or drone imaging looking for anomalies and/or gauges on the pipe itself would be a good start. Governor-Elect Burgum, you’re a self-proclaimed technology guru. If the legislature doesn’t act, it is up to you.
    3. Get a grip on subcontracting used for construction. Weed out those service providers that are here to simply make a quick buck. This rewards those contractors, of which there are many, who have a proven track record.
    4. Stop the dramatic reductions in fines from Lynn Helms and the Department of Mineral Resources. For a prominent example, reducing a $800,000 fine to $20,000, click here.
    5. Execute a full performance audit of the Department of Mineral Resource’s Oil and Gas Division.

What naturally irritates me about writing this entry is the urge I feel I need to write the next line. Wanting pragmatic, effective, oversight of oil and gas development does not make me anti-industry. There is nothing anti-industry in wanting our natural resources to be extracted, transported, and then utilized responsibility and without incident. This is not an either-or position nor do I think those five items outlined above are extreme. Let’s get the job done responsibly and safely for the benefit of us all. Smart oversight is long overdue.

Tyler Axness
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