There is no question that there have been some strained tensions at times between some landowners, state regulators, and the energy industry, but if the tone in this Amy Dalrymple report from Northwest Landowners Association expo in Stanley yesterday is any indication, the state is making progress in addressing concerns:
The Northwest Landowners Association, a grassroots group that promotes balancing the rights of landowners with oil and gas development, brought Connors and other state and industry officials together Tuesday to meet with landowners.
Chairman Troy Coons said the group has seen improvements in how state agencies and oil companies respond to landowner issues, including recent legislative changes that are leading to more robust pipeline regulations.
“There’s definitely more that needs to be done, but they can see there are some changes,” Coons said.
Kathy Johnson, who farms south of Arnegard, said many of the efforts outlined Tuesday, including improvements on pipeline reclamation, are a step in the right direction.
“Now we know another avenue of who to contact,” Johnson said.
Dennis Johnsrud, who farms near Epping, said he’s been reluctant to allow new pipelines until issues with existing pipelines get resolved.
“It’s important that we come together and get some of it fixed,” Johnsrud said.
This is no “mission accomplished” moment. All parties involved need to keep a weather eye on the situation. That said, it’s pleasing that the landowners who haven’t always been pleased with their treatment are seeing real progress.
On a related note, Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Wayne Stenehjem attended the event and defended to the landowners the Industrial Commission’s practice of using large fines as leverage to get thorough response to oil patch spills:
Stenehjem defended the Industrial Commission’s practice of suspending a large portion of fines for oil companies, pointing out that companies are often required to meet conditions that cost more to implement than the fines.
“We would much rather impose a significant penalty, suspend a lot of it on conditions that are very important, and conditions that can make sure that we’re actually going to end up in better shape,” Stenehjem said.
Politically this practice has always been risky. Certain political factions delight in characterizing this as a cozy practice aimed at softening the blow of fines for spills instead of a tool for prompting faster, more thorough clean ups.
Environmentalists and left-wing critics just want a pound of flesh from the industry every time a spill happens. The Industrial Commission would rather see the spill cleaned up as quickly as possible, and recognizes that the maximum fine isn’t always the best way to do that.