The boogeyman is coming and the sky is falling. That pretty much sums up the March 16th column from Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.
Ness claims environmental extremists plotted and stopped the Senate from repealing a rule that limits natural gas releases by oil companies. This rule, says Ness, will be devastating to the North Dakota oil industry.
Fortunately, Sen. Heitkamp made the right vote on the natural gas rule. Unfortunately, Sen. Hoeven did not. He once again showed that he will do whatever the oil industry asks him to do, even if it is bad for North Dakotans and all U.S. citizens.
Ness's exaggerated claims amount to silly nonsense. In the first place, Republicans who have generally always gone along with what the energy industry wants are in control of the U.S. Senate. It is unlikely they listen to radical environmentalists. Yet, the Senate voted to keep the rule. Second of all, the rule will have almost no long-term impact here because North Dakota petroleum producers have already taken significant steps to control natural gas releases. Additionally, the rule can be waived in the rare instance when an oil well would not otherwise be economical to produce.
Perhaps of greater significance, Ness has simply dismissed the reasons why the rule was put in place. The BLM studied countless scientific reports and spent more than three years visiting different parts of the country to see the impacts of natural gas pollution. And, because of concerns about U.S. security, leaders in the U.S. military and veterans groups lobbied both the BLM and the Senate to make sure that the rule stayed in place.
Petroleum companies are not evil or stupid, but have often found it easiest to concentrate on producing oil, and to discard natural gas by releasing it into the atmosphere or by burning it at well sites. This has cost the U.S. a great deal of money while wasting potentially valuable energy resources.
At the same time, private property owners, Native Americans, and taxpayers have been deprived of huge amounts of royalty payments every year.
Venting and flaring of natural gas also has other costs. It creates air pollution that directly affects human health, and that contributes significantly to the ongoing problem of global warming.
Ness argues the federal government should back off and let North Dakota regulate gas production in our state. He is ignoring the fact that much of the oil production is not on state or privately owned land - it is on tribal and federal land. And, he is using tricky double speak because he knows that the oil and gas regulations in North Dakota were written by the oil industry and so let the industry do pretty much whatever it wants.
It is likely that the Trump administration will ask the BLM to revise the rule. As they consider it, reasonable and honest debates about energy policy will be good to have. But wildly exaggerated columns simply polarize issues and do not contribute anything positive.
Perkins is a professor of geology at the Harold Hamm School of Geology and Geological Engineering at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.