Well, okay, now there’s a list. On paper. Well, at least on a computer screen. It’s a list that the North Dakota Industrial Commission is “considering for at least one Commission member to tour” as they look at protecting places that have particularly sensitive archeological, paleontological, historical, recreational or environmental characteristics. That’s a start.
I wrote about this before. Back in May, the Industrial Commission, at the urging of Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, decided to make a list of special places and go on a tour to see what makes them special. And then this group of three important state officials, who issue all the oil and gas drilling permits in the state, would decide if any of those areas should be protected from oil development. The list, which you will find below, “is tentative and is being revised as scheduling is worked on.”
Okay, so what next? Actually, the better question is, what has happened recently? Since the Commission decided to do this, with much ballyhoo and great media coverage, probably 500 or more drilling permits have been issued to oil companies with no regard to the places on this list, at least as far as I can tell. Who knows how many of them are in, or on, or next to, the places on this list? Nobody, to my knowledge.
Then, at their last regular meeting, the Commission decided not to take a group tour, but to try to get to see as many of them individually as possible when their travels took them to western North Dakota. When will that be? Of course, nobody knows. Meanwhile, the Commission keeps on issuing drilling permits—at last count, as of Friday afternoon, 137 of them so far this month. And the month is just half over.
Is the list a complete list of places that ought to be considered “off limits” to oil activity? Not by a long shot. It’s a pretty good compilation of state and national parks, important historic sites, roadless areas treasured by hikers and hunters, and some wildlife habitat areas. But there’s a lot missing from this list. For example, there are about 30 North Dakota Wildlife Management Areas—places set aside to help provide wildlife habitat to our game and non-game species—in the area known generally as the “Oil Patch.” Only six of them are on the list. There are about ten National Wildlife Refuges in the same area. Only three are on the list. Hunters, birders and hikers ought to be pretty concerned about that.
We’ve got serious wildlife problems already out west, especially among mule deer, antelope and sage grouse populations. Those species are not making babies like they used to. They’re finding it pretty hard to get romantic with oil trucks running through their bedrooms.
I’m not even sure where this list came from. I asked officials at affected state agencies today if they had seen it, and none had. So those state agencies—Parks, History and Wildlife—haven’t even had any input yet. That seems strange. You’d think the Industrial Commission would want their paid experts to weigh in on this. I’d sure like to hear what they have to say.
So back to my question: What’s next? Here’s my suggestion.
Using this list as a starting point, bring in the state agency experts, add the wildlife areas and any missing significant cultural and recreational sites, and then hire someone to sit down with a map and a computer and make a database of the legal descriptions of all these places. That shouldn’t take more than a few weeks. The list isn’t that long.
Then every time a request for a drilling permit comes in, run the legal description against the database. If you get a match, set the application aside and have a good discussion, at an open meeting, with all interested parties present, about whether that permit ought to be issued or not. If it’s in a sensitive wildlife area, bring in Terry Steinwand’s folks and see what they think. If it’s an Indian burial ground, bring in Merl Paaverud. You get the idea.
Meanwhile, until the list is updated and the database is completed, I suggest we issue a moratorium on any further drilling permits. I guarantee they would get that database done in a hurry if they did that.
I’m dead serious about this. Like I said, it shouldn’t take more than a few weeks to decide on a list and make the database. Until then, just stop issuing drilling permits. That won’t shut down the oil industry. It won’t even slow it down. There are plenty of undrilled permits out there right now. The drillers will be plenty busy. They’ve probably got work stacked up for a year into the future, or longer, right now.
But it’s a good idea in any kind of game to stop and take a breather once in a while. This is the kind of breather we could all use right now—putting some thought into where oil wells should be located, instead of this mad frenzy we’ve been going through the last few years. It would show that the state is serious about protecting special places. After all, Jack Dalrymnple, Wayne Stenehjem and Doug Goehring said they were serious about it back in May. But nothing has happened since then. It’s time to make this happen. Otherwise, many more months, maybe years, are going to go by, and many hundreds, maybe thousands, of drilling permits are going to be issued, with no regard to this list of special places. That just seems goofy to me.
Here’s the list. What would you add?
Antelope Creek Wildlife Management Area
Bowman Haley Dam and Recreation Area
Deep Creek Bottoms
Fort Union National Historic Site
Hofflund Wildlife Management Area
Initial Rock south of Fryberg
Kendley Plateau or is it spelled Kinley Plateau
Killdeer Wildlife Management Area (Primitive Area)
Lake Ilo National Wildlife Refuge
Lewis and Clark State Park
Little Missouri River State Park
Long X Divide
Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge
Medicine Hole on the Killdeer Mountain
Och’s Point Wildlife Management Area
Schnell Recreation Area
Stewart Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Strom Hanson IRA
Sulllivan Wildlife Management Area
Sully Creek State Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park—North, South and Elkhorn Units (Elkhorn Ranchlands)
Trenton Wildlife Management Area
Writing Rock south of Alkabo
All Little Missouri River National Grassland Roadless Areas