THE SCENE: A quiet winter morning in the Logan’s on Third Building in downtown Bismarck, North Dakota, home to the offices of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. The phone rings at the desk of Petroleum Council President Ron Ness. On the line is Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Division of Mineral Resources, chief regulator of the oil industry in North Dakota. Ness answers. Here’s the conversation.
“Good morning, Ron, this is Lynn. Got a minute?”
“You bet, Lynn. What’s up.”
“Well, Ron, I got your draft back of the new oil regulations. Thanks for finishing them up. Ran ‘em by the Governor. He likes them. I think we’ve got a deal.”
“Okay, Lynn, just remember to keep my fingerprints off them. As far as anyone else knows, those were drafted by your staff, not mine (wink, wink). Now, let’s talk strategy. When are you going to release them to the public? We’ve got to get our lines down, our stories straight. Need to make sure we’re on the same page here. At the end of the day, bottom line, we need a good cop-bad cop scenario for this AP reporter to write about. As we agreed, I’m going to whine about them just enough to make it look like you guys are really laying some shit on our industry.”
“Well, thanks for that, Ron. The Governor really appreciates it. You know he’s got to look like he’s cracking down, with all the problems going on out west, and an election this fall. You and I both know we don’t want that Taylor guy, or any Democrats at all, in fact, in charge. So, have you got your lines ready?”
“Yeah, something like this: ‘They are the most onerous regulatory changes we’ve ever seen. I’m a bit concerned about the cost of doing business in the state and that it could begin to discourage activity.’”
“Oh, yeah, Ron, that’ll play well. And we can live with it. It really makes us look like tough guys. Like we’re really doing something to ‘get you guys in line.’”
“So what about you, Lynn? What have you got planned when I say that?”
“Well, I’ve got a line written for Bruce Hicks, my assistant, something like this: ‘We are not trying to push industry out of our state. It’s not our goal to be the most onerous — we want to have a good business environment that is going to protect the environment.”
“Oh, that’s good. We both got the word ‘onerous’ in there. That’s the word that will stick in people’s minds. I think we’re good to go.”
FAST FORWARD: March 15, 2012. You can read the rest of the story here.