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Commission kills ‘interested party’ definition

Vegetation is sparse along this saltwater pipeline right-of-way in Mountrail County, N.D., pictured Thursday, June 17, 2016. Rules approved by the North Dakota Industrial Commission would increase regulation of these pipelines. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service1 / 2
Crews install a gathering pipeline system in McKenzie County, N.D., on Thursday, June 16, 2016. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service2 / 2

BISMARCK – A proposal to limit who can comment at oil and gas hearings “got the ax” after the public overwhelmingly opposed it.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission had considered adding a definition of “interested party” to the state’s oil and gas statutes related to who could appear at certain hearings or submit comments.

The proposal defined an interested part as “an individual or number of individuals that have a property ownership or management interest in or adjacent to the subject matter.”

More than 85 members of the public spoke out against the proposal at hearings or submitted written comments in opposition. That definition was removed from a set of new oil and gas rules approved unanimously Wednesday by the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

“That rule change got the ax,” said Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources. “When people submit written comments or show up at a hearing and comment on the rules, we listen and make changes.”

Jan Swenson, who routinely testifies at monthly oil and gas hearings on behalf of the Badlands Conservation Alliance, was pleased Wednesday with the commission’s actions.

“They did the right thing,” Swenson said. “They did hear the public opposition loud and clear, which should tell the public that if they have concerns, they should raise their voices and at least sometimes we will be heard.”

Troy Coons, chairman of the Northwest Landowners Association, called it a “good move” to eliminate the interested party definition.

“How they had it was very limiting,” Coons said.

The commission consists of Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

Several other oil and gas rules did move forward Wednesday, including a requirement of a six-inch perimeter berm around well sites designed to contain more spills on location. The rule was modified from an earlier proposal for a 12-inch berm.

The protection will be required on all sites with some room for exceptions. Berms will need to be constructed for at least 4,000 well sites, Helms said.

If these six-inch berms had been in place in 2015, 98 percent of spills would have been contained on the location, Helms said.

Kari Cutting, vice president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said the berms will have a significant financial impact on industry, and for some locations a berm doesn’t make sense.

Cutting said the industry group was still reviewing the implications of the other rule changes, which also include new regulations related to the construction of gathering pipelines.

“This magnitude of rules is always a big cost to the industry,” Cutting said.

Coons said a rule requiring third-party inspections of saltwater and crude oil gathering pipelines will be a major improvement.

Swenson said she also sees a lot of good changes in the rules.

“There’s definitely improvement here,” Swenson said. “From the standpoint of spills and inspections and monitoring, we will not know until these are implemented whether they’re fully adequate, but they’re absolutely a move in the right direction.”

The earliest the rules could take effect is Oct. 1. They still need to be reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office and the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee.

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