Burgum Is Right to Prioritize Good Data in Oil Industry Regulation


Gov. Doug Burgum, center, leads his first North Dakota Industrial Commission meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, with Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, second from left, and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, right. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

State Rep. Roscoe Streyle has introduced legislation to limit reporting of oil spills (it’s HB1151). Currently all spills of any amount are reported. His bill would prohibit the reporting of spills of oil or produced water that are 10 barrels or less and contained on site.

Streyle told me in an interview that most of the spills in our state in 2016 would have fallen into this category.

Not surprisingly the legislation has prompted a lot of discussion and criticism. Yesterday, per a report from my colleague Amy Dalrymple, the legislation came up during a meeting of the Industrial Commission (which regulates oil and gas activity in our state). Governor Doug Burgum, who sits on the commission along with Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring, made some interesting comments about the situation:

Gov. Doug Burgum said Tuesday he supports efforts to streamline the state’s oil spill reporting to make information more accessible to the public.

The comments came as Burgum led his first meeting as chairman of the North Dakota Industrial Commission during discussion on a bill related to reporting on oilfield spills.

In addition to the legislative discussion, the various state agencies that investigate oilfield spills are working to develop a single reporting system rather than manage separate databases.

“In a world where data helps us solve problems, protect the environment, we’ve got to have clean data, and it’s got to be uniform and it’s got to be accessible and it’s got to be transparent,” Burgum said.

Burgum’s right. The goal should be producing good data which can be used to craft sound policy.

What Streyle’s bill aims to address is the fact that currently our data on spills isn’t good. It lumps very small spills which are contained in with larger spills that aren’t contained, which in turn can give a false impression of the scope of the spills problem in North Dakota.

Where Streyle’s bill gets it wrong, I think, is in prohibiting the reporting of these smaller, contained spills. That data should still be avilable, only in a distinct category. That way the data on all spills is available, only in a more nuanced way that is a better reflection of reality.

Certain partisan elements, and anti-oil activists, oppose this nuance because the less detailed reporting better serves their agendas which have to do with painting Republican leadership as irresponsible and oil development in our state as a disaster.

The NDIC authorized Oil and Gas Division Director Lynn Helms to propose amendments to Streyle’s bill. I hope this is the direction they take.