North Dakota Conservation Activists Didn't Get As Much From Industrial Commission As They'd Like You To Think


To hear the Tom Dennis, writing on behalf of the Grand Forks Herald editorial board, tell it you’d think North Dakota conservation activists won a great victory at the State Industrial Commission last week.

The commission cast a vote on Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s “extraordinary places” proposal, and Dennis thinks it’s a sign of conservation interests asserting supremacy over the supporters of energy development.

“For even after a coalition of oil producers and royalty owners strongly opposed Stenehjem’s idea, and even after the coalition suggested the plan would jeopardize North Dakota’s entire ‘economic miracle,’ the Industrial Commission tweaked rather than rejected the “extraordinary places” plan,” Dennis writes.

The word “gutted” might be a better word than tweaked.

What Stenehjem initially proposed were set-in-stone requirements for additional scrutiny for development around defined “extraordinary places,” as well as a process for public comment that would have (even Stenehjem himself has admitted) given pretty much anyone and everyone in the public legal standing to challenge a drilling permit.

“I don’t want to encourage anybody to think that this is an opportunity for additional litigation, because quite frankly I don’t have enough lawyers in my office to deal with that,” Stenehjem said just before the commission voted unanimously to formalize an approval process for “extraordinary places” that was already being done informally.

In short, the commission voted for the status quo, and conservation activists who were no doubt salivating at the idea of tying up drilling with months and even years of litigation lost out.

That Dennis thinks this was somehow a victory for conservationists makes me think he either wasn’t following the matter very closely, or is merely giving rhetorical support to posturing conservationists. Which is important. Conservation activists are currently circulating a petition to funnel even more oil tax money into conservation projects, with fewer controls on how that money is used and less oversight from elected leaders, and a perceived loss on this issue before the NDIC would be a blow to that effort.

Shame on the Grand Forks Herald for moving beyond objective commentary to outright propaganda.