Slow Down Oil Development Says…Head Of The North Dakota Republican Party? UPDATE: Lobbies For Enviro Group


I’ve been getting email all morning – praise and gloating from liberal readers, and puzzlement from conservative readers – about this CNBC article quoting NDGOP Chairman Robert Harms calling for a slowdown in oil production in North Dakota:

A prominent North Dakota Republican has called for a slowdown in the state’s oil production boom following the derailment and explosion of a train carrying crude oil on Monday.

Robert Harms, chairman of North Dakota’s Republican party and an energy industry consultant, told Reuters on Thursday that a “moderated approach” was needed amid an energy boom that has transformed the local economy, but created safety concerns.

His comments are among the strongest yet in a state that has so far enthusiastically embraced its energy surge.

This week, a 106-car BNSF train carrying crude east from the Bakken crashed into a derailed westbound BNSF grain train near the town of Casselton, setting off explosions and a fire that burned for more than 24 hours. No one was injured.

“I think it’s a good wake up call for all of us, both local and state officials, as well as the people with the oil and gas industry and the transportation industry,” Harms said in his first interview after the accident.

“Even people within the oil and gas industry that I’ve talked to feel that sometimes we’re just going too fast and too hard,” said Harms, who has also supported regulation that would require producers to cut back on flaring natural gas.

Harms’ comments aren’t party strategy. I’ve been in touch with some other Republican party and elected officials, and they were as taken aback as I was. It seems Harms’ comments were his own.

Of course, beyond the partisan politics of the matter is the question of whether or not he’s right.

I don’t think he is.

For one thing, slowing down oil production is risky business. Consider that most oil development on North Dakota happens on private lands. Which private property owners are you going to tell must wait to develop their extremely valuable holdings? And what happens if delays diminish the value of those holdings due to changes in the marketplace? I’m not so sure that government slow-down efforts wouldn’t be met with a lawsuit from mineral rights holders on the basis of financial harm, which would be a claim with a lot of merit.

For another, we cannot ignore the imbalance in oil transportation created by pipeline obstructionism. We wouldn’t have seen such an explosion in oil-by-rail (not to mention oil-by-truck) if we could have cut through some of the political and bureaucratic red tape hindering the buildout of pipeline infrastructure.

Why would we want to smother production, when instead we could facilitate faster infrastructure growth to handle that production?

I’ve got a call and an email in to Harms for clarification, but if his comments to CNBC are truly reflective of his mindset he’s wrong and way off base on this issue when compared to the rest of his party.

Update: Here’s an interesting tid-bit. According to lobbyist registrations from the North Dakota Secretary of State, in 2013 Harms lobbied for the Environmental Defense Fund:

That might explain some of Harms’ comments. Also, he is described in the CNBC article as an oil industry consultant, but apparently has no oil industry clients (though I know he did in the past).

I also just got this from a prominent Republican operative in the state:

He is insane. First, he is not speaking for the party or any elected officials. In fact, he just threw most of them under the bus. Second, whose property rights is he going to take away or which oil companies will be allowed to drill, whose lease options are you going to void when you slow it down. He was already having trouble raising money from the industry with his lobbying for a radical environmental group.

From another:

Bob has no opinions he doesnt get paid to have. I really cant stand him anymore