SURFACE OWNER PROTECTION
Okay, I know I said I was done writing about this “Special Places” thing Wayne Stenehjem has going, but people keep bringing it up to me and there always seem to be some new ideas floating around, so I’m going to take one more whack at it. Not that I really think it will help, but every idea should at least be looked at.
So here’s a suggestion for Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who maintains that Stenehjem’s search for a common sense solution to stop the oil industry from just putting oil wells, and the roads that lead up to them, and the infrastructure it takes to service them, any damn place they want to put them, is trampling on private property rights: You might want to consider Stenehjem’s proposal in a different light, Doug. If it is really farmers and ranchers you are worried about, you might want to consider Stenehjem’s ideas as surface owners’ protection.
Because it’s a pretty well-known fact that most landowners don’t own the minerals under their land. And that leaves them vulnerable to the absentee mineral owners who don’t give a shit about our farmers and ranchers, who don’t care if an oil well is going to get plunked down in the middle of their winter pasture, or if the road being built to accommodate a thousand fracking trucks is going to run right past their feedlot.
I’ve read that only 25 per cent of landowners in North Dakota actually own the minerals under their land. And in North Dakota, mineral ownership trumps surface ownership. So if you’ve inherited the minerals under a section of land that grandpa left to you when he quit farming and sold the land to someone else, you can go get your oil no matter what the guy who’s now farming the land says.
But under Stenehjem’s proposal, if you’re a rancher and you own land that is near one of the 18 places he’s picked out for special consideration in the siting of an oil well, or a road, or a tank battery, you’re going to get some help from the Game and Fish Department or the State Historical Society in deciding where the oil well is going to be located, and where the road is going to be built. I’d think the state’s Agriculture Commissioner would be pretty happy about that. Because under Stenehjem’s proposal, no one is going to be told that they can’t go get their oil. But they are going to be told where experts think the best location for that oil well is. And it’s a darned good bet that those experts are going to consult the rancher who is going to have to live with that well before they sign off on a drilling permit application. The oil company and the absentee mineral owner may or may not do that, but you can bet the biologists for the state’s wildlife agency are going to ask the rancher if there is some critical wildlife habitat on their land that they’d like protected.
So this bullshit Goehring is arguing about, taking the protection of private land out of Stenehjem’s proposal, is just plain goofy. What makes a rancher’s private land less valuable than the public land next door? The rancher is likely grazing cattle on both of those parcels. Why shouldn’t they be afforded equal protection? Doesn’t it just stand to reason that if the Oil and Gas Division is going to offer some protection to a parcel of public land but not to the private land next to it, that the oil companies are just going to plunk down that well and build that road on the private land, maybe exactly where the rancher doesn’t want it, but is powerless to stop it? And then the rancher is going to blame the government for protecting the public land, but not his land.
And as long as we’re talking about surface owner protection, do we need to re-examine all our surface owner protection laws to make sure that the state is doing all it can to help our farmers and ranchers who don’t own the minerals under their land? Right now, an oil company has to notify the farmer or rancher that they want to put a well on his property, but if the rancher doesn’t want the well there, he has no recourse except to go to court to try to stop it. Uh huh. Do you know how many lawyers those oil companies have? And how much they get paid? Good luck with that.
But if the Industrial Commission had a policy like the one Stenehjem is proposing for special places, dealing with ALL drilling permits, protecting ALL private land, wouldn’t the rancher have a little bigger hammer when dealing with the oil companies? And didn’t Goehring say recently that “all of North Dakota is special?” Well, then, let’s treat it all the same. Let’s give our farmers and ranchers who actually DO live here all the tools we can to deal with the people who own the minerals under their land but DON’T live here.
So it seems to me Goehring’s got it backwards. Seems to me he’s out to please the oil companies at the expense of his real constituents. Or just spouting the right wing drivel we’re all getting really, really tired of.
And maybe Stenehjem ought to consider renaming his idea the Surface Owners Protection Policy.
JUST MAKES SENSE
Oh, and before I go, I want to pass along a suggestion from someone who really is concerned about our Agriculture Commissioner. After reading the other day that Doug Goehring was forced to take one of his young female staff members up to his motel room to walk on his back when he was away with some staff on a business trip, a friend of mine suggested that really shouldn’t have been necessary. If the Agriculture Commissioner was having that kind of back pain, and the back-walking thing was what cured it, my friend says that he should have been able to get professional help for that and not have to rely on an inexperienced young staffer to help him. My friend says that it looks like poor old Doug fell through a crack in the health care system, and maybe there ought to be a provision in Obamacare for just such a thing, and that insurance companies should be required to pay for that. And that way Doug could have gotten the relief he needs, provided by a professional, and covered by insurance. I don’t know if there really are professional back-walkers, but if not, it could lead to a whole new cottage industry—Obamacare could take credit for creating a whole bunch of new jobs. I think my friend is on to something.