“Landowners protest plan” screamed the big headline across the top of the front page of The Bismarck Tribune today.
I stand in awe of how well the oil industry’s public relations team does its job. I spent a lot of years in the PR business in my career, but I was never as good as this bunch. Of course, I never had the kind of money they have at their disposal. But still.
The fact they were able to sell the Bismarck Tribune on that headline, although not surprising given the way the Tribune is written and put together these days, gives Ron Ness and the North Dakota Petroleum Council an A+ for PR work in my book. Damn, they’re good. I am so envious. Landowners? This is no landowners’ group. This is a straight–on PR arm of the oil industry, funded by big bucks from the industry’s biggest player in North Dakota, Harold Hamm’s Continental Resources. Don’t believe me? Look at their membership page, here. Not a single North Dakota landowner there. Not even a single North Dakotan.
President: Julie Musselman, “Royalty Owner.” Royalty owner? Really? Take a look at this. “Julie S. Musselman manages oil and gas properties for JMW, LLC, and the Trust of Raleigh W. Shade in Tulsa. Musselman previously worked as a landman for Houston Oil & Minerals, Blocker Petroleum and ZG Exploration.”
Secretary: Candice Brewer, “Royalty Owner.” Really? Take a look at this. “I manage the mineral and royalty interest owned by the (Arizona State University) foundation,” Brewer said. “Our assets surpass about $96 million right now. The foundation receives monthly royalty revenue from oil, gas and other minerals in 16 West Texas counties.”
Director: Bill Sinclair, “Royalty Owner.” Really? Take a look at this. “Sinclair is currently the founder and CEO of Agelio Networks, Inc., a software development company which provides web-based solutions for the oil and gas industry. Its flagship product, MineralFile, released this past February, helps mineral and royalty owners better manage their assets through its patent-pending web-based land and revenue management system.”
Director: David Sikes, “Royalty Owner.” Really? Take a look at this. “David is a native Oklahoman and the third generation of his family to work in the energy industry. David earned his Professional Certified Mineral Manger status from NARO in 2006.”
The remainder of the group’s board of directors represent Apache Corporation, Continental Resources, Inc., Devon Energy Corporation and Newfield Exploration Company, Inc., the same four companies which fund the organization.
The Tribune’s story under the bigheadline, similar to one written by a Forum Communications reporter for all four of the company’s newspapers (Dickinson, Fargo, Jamestown and Grand Forks) was reasonable, but neither took a look at who this organization really represents. It represents the oil industry, and the industry is spreading its scare tactics about a proposal by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to develop some reasonable guidelines for drilling oil wells near sites on a list of important scenic, cultural, historical or recreational landmarks. The industry’s press release from which the story was drawn is total bullshit. Here’s how it starts:
“Attention royalty owners, leaseholders, farmers/ranchers, property owners and North Dakotans! Your property rights and royalty checks are at serious risk!
“If you think your property and the decisions about how and when to use it belong to you, then you should think again. Nearly a million acres of private land across the Peace Garden State may soon be restricted or even condemned. If you thought a royalty check was coming your way, your wells may not be drilled.
“Out-of-state interests are pushing their anti-development agenda in Bismarck all in the name of protecting so-called “Extraordinary Places,” places that are ALREADY protected by existing regulations!”
“Out of state interests!” Are you kidding me? This press release from an organization based in Oklahoma with no North Dakota members? Damn, these guys got balls.
You can read the whole press release here.
Meanwhile, let me tell you another interesting story.
A week ago, I got a call from Jayne Solinger, a producer at Minnesota Public Radio, asking me to appear on an hour-long daily radio program called “The Daily Circuit,” which airs statewide in Minnesota and drifts a little bit into the North Dakota side of the Red river Valley through transmitters in Moorhead, Fergus Falls and Thief River Falls. It’s MPR’s morning public affairs show. Outside the Valley, you can listen to it by going to their website and clicking on “Listen Now.” The producer said the hosts wanted to do a show on the oil industry in North Dakota, and I had been recommended to her as a good guest to talk about that. I said sure, I’d be glad to do that. Then she said “Who would you recommend we put on this show to represent the other side.”
I responded that I don’t think there are really “sides” in this story—that we all are excited about the good things the oil boom had brought to us, but that some of us are more cautious about the pace of development. I said any show dealing with the oil industry ought to include Ron Ness, executive director of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, the man who knows more about the oil industry in North Dakota than anyone else. After confirming that the show would air Thursday, Jan. 24, at 10 a.m., she said she would call Ron and see if he could join the show. Later in the day she called me back to tell me Ron had a conflict on Thursday, but was available Wednesday, and could we reschedule? Sure, I said. 10 a.m. Wednesday works for me.
Fast forward to this morning, when I opened the paper and saw that the North Dakota Industrial Commission had scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday (tomorrow) at 11 a.m. to discuss Stenehjem’s proposal. Uh oh. I sent an e-mail to Jayne, with a copy to Ron, asking if we could reschedule, because I was pretty sure that both Ron and I would want to be at that meeting. She responded that she would try to have the show done by 10:30 or 10:45 so we could both get to the meeting. I said fine.
But then I got another e-mail from Jayne that said she would be calling me about 10:30 to go on the air. WTF? I thought the show started at 10. So I called her to inquire about details of the show, why the change in schedule. Well, she said, Ron doesn’t want to be on the air with you, so we’re going to talk to him first, and then after he hangs up we’re going to talk to you.
WTF? Jayne, I was the one who recommended that you put Ron on the show with me. You really are saying that now he won’t go on the air with me? Yep. I almost told her where she could put her show, but that would serve no good purpose, so we arranged for me to actually get on the phone, with my microphone shut off, while Ron is talking, so I can listen in, and then when he leaves, to get up to the Capitol for the meeting, they would turn on my microphone. For 15 minutes or so. So be careful what you say, Ron, because even though it’s not broadcast here, I’ll be on the phone listening. And I get the last word.
I guess I’ll do it from a coatroom, or some empty corner of the Capitol, so I won’t be late for the meeting. I don’t want Ron to get a better seat than me. I’ll probably sit down beside him and tell him what he missed after he left. And then we’ll sit through the meeting and see if his phony “landowners” group is successful in scaring Jack Dalrymple away from supporting Wayne Stenehjem’s proposal. I hope it doesn’t work. Dalrymple is pretty close to the oil industry, but I think he’s smart enough to see through this scheme.