Interim committees address energy development
By Rep. Peter Silbernagel
With North Dakota's 63rd Legislative Session in the rear view mirror, legislators are now focusing on the execution of the legislation that was passed during the session and preparing themselves for the 64th Session. Key among the activities to accomplish both of these tasks is the work of the interim committees.
My two interim committee assignments are Energy Development and Transmission Committee and the Administrative Rules Committee. This past week I attended the first meeting for the Energy Development and Transmission Committee and the Administrative Rules Committee is scheduled to meet in both August and September.
The Energy Development and Transmission Committee is made up of six senators and six representatives and chaired by Senator Rich Wardner. The committee's charge is to study the impact of the state's energy policy and the development of each facet of the energy industry, from the obtaining of raw natural resources to the sale of the final product. Their scope includes reviewing of and recommendations relating to policy affecting extraction, generation, processing, transmission, transportation, marketing and the use of energy.
Last week's meeting included presentations by the NDDOT, Department of Trusts, Basin Electric, State Department of Health, Department of Commerce, Department of Natural Resources and the Lignite Energy Council. One of the key take-a-ways from these presentations for me was that significant work is underway to address many of the infrastructure needs of the state related to the growing energy industry. The NDDOT had a slow start to the construction season due to weather delays, but things are well underway throughout the state and most notably in the Bakken region. Department Director, Grant Levi reported that in spite of the record number of projects being bid and dollars being spent, contractors have stepped up. For each project bid, on average, there are 4.6 bidders which are higher than the "pre-Bakken" numbers. In addition to the NDDOT activities, dollars are beginning to flow to the townships, counties, cities and other political subdivisions to address infrastructure needs.
Another highlight of the committee meeting was the update by the Department of Trust Lands and the status of their awarding oil and gas impact grants. The list is too long to articulate in this report, but the projects are beginning to address the needs of the impacted areas regarding airports, schools, streets, water, law enforcement, fire protection and other impacts. These dollars not only are flowing to the hub cities, but the neighboring communities that are feeling the strain of a growing energy sector.
Lynn Helms, Director of the Department of Mineral Resources gave his report on state and federal regulations of the oil and gas industry and an update of the activities of the department. The department is implementing the legislative changes of the 63rd Legislative Assembly. This includes HB 1134 which encourages the use of gas that might otherwise be flared, HB 1149 which relates to emergency response to hazardous chemical, oil, gas, and saltwater incidents, HB 1333 relates to saltwater disposal wells, abandoned oil and gas well plugging and site reclamation fund and the mapping and reclamation of pipeline facilities, HB 1348 which relates to setbacks for oil and gas wells. Combined, these pieces of legislation begin to address many of the concerns related to developing our State's natural resources in a safe and responsible manner. Helms reported that the rig count in North Dakota has remained stable for a number of months and expects this to continue into the future. This is allowing the Bakken region to "catch its breath" and in some areas infrastructure is beginning to catch up. One of the key focus' of the oil and gas industry is the completion of gathering lines for both oil and gas to mitigate truck traffic in the region, and significant progress continues in this regard.
Each of the presenters at the interim committee meeting provided legislators with meaningful information. Again, I can't begin to cover it all. I would encourage readers to check out the state's legislative website, www.legis.nd.gov, where you can drill down to the minutes of all interim committee meetings. In the future I intend to give a summary of other committee meetings that I will be attending.
In addition to the above mentioned interim committee, I was also appointed to the Devil's Lake Outlet Advisory Board which was formed by the 63rd Legislative Assembly. In the past there were two boards, one governing the east end outlet and one board governing the west end outlet. Recent legislation combined the two boards for efficiency and policy reasons. The board meets annually, at a minimum, to approve the North Dakota State Water Commission's recommendations on the utilization of the two outlets. In future updates, I will cover the activities of this board as well.
In summary, the execution of the 63rd Legislative Assembly's agenda is underway. In the arena of Energy Development and Transmission the policy of responsibly developing our energy and energy transmission resources continues, to the benefit of our state, the region and our nation.