North Dakota's Top Oil Regulator: “I just don’t see much value in public comment.”


North Dakota Democrats have chosen North Dakota’s top oil regulator, Lynn Helms, as their whipping boy this election season, and Helms seems to be giving them plenty of fodder. In an email obtained by Forum Communications, Helms tells a lawyer in Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office that he doesn’t “see much value in public comment” which is a part of Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s proposed “extraordinary places” regulation.

Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, made the comment in an email sent to Assistant Attorney General Matthew Sagsveen on Dec. 1. Forum News Service obtained it this week through a public records request.

In the email, Helms discussed his suggested edits to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s proposed policy that would require Helms to consider public comment for the purposes of attaching conditions to drilling permits to minimize potential impacts to the 18 sites listed in the policy.

Stenehjem introduced his proposal Dec. 19, and a revised version will be considered for possible adoption by the state Industrial Commission on Wednesday.

In an interview Tuesday, Helms said his statement must be taken in context. The full sentence read: “I just don’t see much value in public comment, however 10 days of public comment followed by 10 days of professional guidance could be done.”

Helms, acknowledging that the first half of the sentence “sounds terrible,” said permitting oil and gas wells and mitigating the impacts is a highly technical process.

Helms will be lambasted by left-wing interests in the state, but isn’t he sort of right?

Public commenting periods have largely been taken over by special interest groups who stuff the box with form letters and emails which offer very little in the way of valid comment. So Helms doesn’t like the idea of having to comb through a pile of mostly worthless “comment.” Can you blame him?

Maybe if you’re a point-scoring politician in an election year.

Activists and left-wing politicians have taken issue with the fact that Helms “is not bound to act upon any comments” in this proposed regulation, but that’s common sense policy. If Helms were bound to act on comments, anti-oil activists could drag out the approval process through the public comment process.

That’s a can of worms anyone interested in the timely development of North Dakota resources should want to avoid.