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Legislative Report District 22: New tools being developed to help educate

By Rep. Pete Silbernagel

Last week the North Dakota legislative interim committee on Energy Development and Transmission met for the second time in as many months. The agenda was focused, with only two items. The first topic was to select a group to conduct a study of likely changes to oil industry practices, production, impacts and tax policy. Secondly, we received an update from the North Dakota Department of Health on the recent Tesoro pipe line leak in northwest North Dakota.

During the 63rd legislative session legislator’s approved funding to conduct a study of the oil and gas industry in North Dakota. The study will provide updated information in advance of the next legislative session to aid legislators in making appropriate decisions related to the short term and longer term impacts of the industry. There were two proposals put forth for review by the committee. Representatives from the Louis Berger Group and Kadrmas, Lee and Jackson, each presented a proposal. KLJ was selected to conduct the survey which is to be completed by the end of August 2014. I supported the selection of KLJ as they are in the midst of the Bakken play, very familiar with existing studies, data and information. The KLJ proposal also included partnering with the EERC (Energy and Environmental Research Center) located in Grand Forks and NDSU’s Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics. Their proposal included analysis covering the next five year period of oil and gas production.

I feel that this study is an important effort to provide current information to legislators in advance of the next session. The oil and gas industry is a very dynamic industry not only in North Dakota but throughout North America and around the globe. It is imperative that we understand more intimately the risks and rewards to our state. One piece of information that I requested and hope to see in the study is how North Dakota’s tax policies on the oil and gas industry stack up to those of other states.

The interim committee also heard from Dave Glatt, the Environmental Health Section Chief at the North Dakota Department of Health regarding the much discussed recent oil pipeline leak. It is apparent that the Health Department and our Governor are moving quickly to address the concerns of citizen’s as to transparency of information related to this incident, past incidents and future incidents. Glatt informed the committee that a website is currently being tested that will publish all statewide spills reported to the department.

Additionally, Glatt informed the interim committee that a protocol is being developed to provide information on significant spills in a timely manner to citizens, state leaders and others within the agency. The agency appeared to recognize the significant need for finalizing such a protocol to mitigate some of the delays and confusion that occurred during the Tesoro pipe line oil leak. I believe that having a clear communication strategy for significant spills along with the new website will provide a clearer picture of spill incidents across the state.

North Dakota will soon reach the one million barrels per day of oil production. As we continue to develop the oil and gas resources of our state it is imperative that we continue to strengthen our efforts to educate, inform and build transparency into our conversations during the reporting and decision making processes. The five-year study by KLJ, the new Health Department website and the communication protocol being developed by the Health Department are important tools to insure that we continue to educate, inform and build transparency into our state government.