BISMARCK, N.D. — State officials Tuesday denounced a monthslong investigative report conducted by The New York Times that ran last weekend as being an inaccurate portrayal of how state has regulated the oil and gas industry in recent years.
Multiple North Dakota landowners were featured, one who said the report revealed a side of the industry most North Dakotans either aren’t aware of or choose to ignore.
The New York Times story paints a broad, negative picture of North Dakota’s regulatory regime as being overly lenient toward industry. It alleges a cozy relationship between industry and the Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s office as well as with the North Dakota Industrial Commission, the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Health.
Dalrymple’s office issued a statement Tuesday taking exception with the story.
“It’s an unfair portrayal of how our government operates, and it does not include very important facts about how we regulate oil and gas,” Dalrymple said. “In the past few years, North Dakota has adopted some of the toughest regulations in the country designed to protect the environment.”
David Schwalbe of Bismarck was profiled in the story, which highlights how he and his siblings own mineral rights under the family homestead in western North Dakota. It details his opposition to a proposed consolidated mega-unit that included the area where his mineral rights lay from being approved by the Industrial Commission. The proposed mega-unit was approved in late 2011.
“It’s very important. I don’t think the people here really understand what’s going on,” Schwalbe said.
Previously reported events relating to the North Dakota oil patch used by the Times in its story included:
- A look at fines implemented against dozens of operators in 2011 for not taking precautions to protect open pits from spring flooding. New regulations for waste pits were later enacted.
- Reporting on the dumping of radioactive oil filter socks in the state. Filter socks are used to filter toxic saltwater and water used for hydraulic fracturing at well sites. Over time, they can accumulate radioactive particles.
- Raising the issue of oil industry campaign contributions raised in 2012 by Democratic candidates for governor and Public Service Commission against Republican incumbents, but the issue never gained traction.
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“Overall, there’s a thread of truth in there, but they didn’t tell the whole story,” David Glatt, head of the environmental section of the North Dakota Department of Health, said.
Glatt said the state works hard with industry and landowners to reach the best solution to problems that arise.
“States are different in their approach. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” Glatt said. “What might work in North Dakota might not work in New York and vice versa.”
Glatt said he wishes a more complete picture of what the department does had been included.
Dalrymple outlined recent regulatory actions taken by the state.
“Our enforcement actions include prohibiting the use of open pits and new mandates that require oil producers to drastically reduce the flaring of natural gas. The Industrial Commission has tightened requirements for the handling of waste materials, and is drafting new regulations that will require producers to condition crude oil to improve oil transport safety,” Dalrymple said.
Meanwhile, Schwalbe said the state needs to slow drilling activity, adding that lawmakers hold the purse-strings and can ensure more regulators are hired to improve enforcement.
“It’s all in the hands of the Legislature. The buck stops with them, and the buck stops with the Industrial Commission (too),” Schwalbe said. “I’m hoping our lawmakers will take a good hard look at what’s going on and they start asking hard questions. So far, they really haven’t been doing that.”