Meet The New “Drilling Permit Review Policy Commentary Analyst”

The North Dakota Industrial Commission, the agency which oversees oil and gas development in North Dakota, adopted Policy NDIC-PP 2.01 last Spring, a half-hearted attempt to offer some protection to “Special Places” in western North Dakota from the zealots who drill for oil and those who are supposed to be regulating them. The land and its critters, I might offer, need protection from both of them. Applications for drilling permits in and around these special places are going to be open to public comments before the Industrial Commission approves them..

“All comments,” Section 2.03 of the Policy states, “shall be reviewed by the Industrial Commission executive director’s designee, who shall summarize any comments received for the Director of the Division of Mineral Resources. However, the Mineral Resources director is not bound to act upon any comments.”

Well, now there’s a policy with some real teeth, eh? But we’ve talked about that before. And we will again. That’s not the purpose of this article. This article is to introduce you to the new “Industrial Commission executive director’s designee.” His name is Stan Benson, and he’s a retired banker from Bismarck.

Stan recently retired as the Credit Standards & Review Manager at the Bank of North Dakota, so the Industrial Commission, which also oversees the state bank, and its executive director, Karlene Fine, know him well. According to his BND bio, after coming to BND from Wells Fargo Bank, Benson had “oversight within Lending Services to provide lending staff and Bank management with an on-going assessment of a variety of credit risk issues impacting the commercial, farm, residential and student loan portfolios.”

Karlene told me “Stan’s work at the Bank partially dealt with credit reviews and summarizing information, so he has expertise in taking information and putting it into a concise format.”

Well. That seems to be something the Industrial Commission needs. They’ve not been long known for conciseness and brevity.

According to that BND bio, before his retirement last year Benson was also the legislative coordinator for BND. “He maintains knowledge, reports to management, and occasionally testifies on the status of a large variety of legislative bills that impact the Bank,” the bio says. State agencies don’t have lobbyists, per se, but the Bank is a hybrid state agency, and Benson would have been the closest thing to a lobbyist as it could have. So he likely has good Legislative connections. Our Legislature likes bankers.

Last week, Benson agreed to answer a few questions I posed to him.

1. What’s your job title? Are you part of the Oil and Gas Division staff now or do you work directly for the Industrial Commission?

I am employed by the Industrial Commission’s Administrative Office reporting to the Industrial Commission Executive Director. Job title – Drilling Permit Review Policy Commentary Analyst. (emphasis added)

2. Is your position full or part time? If part time, how many hours per week, month, etc.?

My position is part time and the number of hours worked per week, month, etc. is dependent on the number of applications and commentary received pertaining to drilling permits located on public land within an area of interest identified under NDIC-PP 2.01.

 3. How much are they payin’ you?

My compensation is $46 per hour

4. When did you start, and where is your office?

I started May 1, 2014 utilizing my home office and also the Industrial Commission Executive Director’s office at the State Capitol for work activities such as periodic meetings.

5. Please describe your job as you understand it.

My job duties are the acknowledgement, review, and summarization of any written commentary received under the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Drilling Permit Review Policy for permit applications located in an area of interest identified under NDIC-PP 2.01. Summaries and supporting detail for received commentary are forwarded, after posted deadlines have passed, to the Department of Mineral Resources for the DMR Director’s  consideration in determining permit conditions for applications on impacted well sites. 

6. Are you responsible for looking at every permit application and flagging those in “areas of interest?” If not, who is?

The Department of Mineral Resources is responsible for looking at every drilling permit application and DMR utilizes a query system and mapping to locate and flag those permits located in an area of interest.

7. Have any permits been requested in “areas of interest” so far? If so, please describe the process you went through with them, and the results.

As of July 2, 2014, the Department of Mineral Resources has not identified any permit applications to be within an area of interest identified under NDIC-PP 2.01.

Well, okay then. Stan Benson, the Industrial Commission’s new Drilling Permit Review Policy Commentary Analyst is on the job, but so far he hasn’t had anything to do. Because so far, no oil company has requested to drill an oil well in any of the “areas of interest,” aka “Special Places” or as Wayne Stenehjem preferred to call them, “Extraordinary Places.”

One of the questions I forgot to ask Stan Benson was how many of the “Special Places” listed in the policy he had been to. I need to ask him that next time I get a chance. I don’t think that’s critical, because his job is just going to be summarizing other people’s comments, but it seems to me it would help him to put those comments in context if he was familiar with the places the comments are about.

I hope he will go see them. It’s still pretty early in the summer, and he doesn’t have anything to do yet, so it seems to me a two or three day road trip to get a good look at those places might give him an idea of why they are on the list, why they are important, and why they are deserving of special consideration in the siting of oil wells and the roads leading up to them. I wouldn’t even mind if he did that on the Industrial Commission’s nickel. Seems like a pretty good investment to me. I’m sure they want to know as much about these places as possible before they sign off on applications which are likely going to be recommended for approval by Lynn Helms no matter what’s in the comments Stan Benson summarizes.

The Industrial Commission, you might remember, announced with great fanfare they were going to do that themselves, but that effort fizzled. The governor flew over a few Bad Lands spots last summer and got to two or three on the ground, holding press conferences along the way, saying “I want to emphasize today that we are already asking oil companies to stay back from sensitive areas like our national parks and our state parks.” Uh huh, that’s why we’re drilling 30 or 40 wells and building roads to them over the top of hiking trails in Little Missouri State Park, a place I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

But, back to matters at hand. Stan Benson is on the job. Here’s the list of “areas of interest” from the state’s policy. I hope he will get to see them this summer, before he dives deep into his job.

Oh, one more thing: just because the policy is in place, and Stan’s on the job, doesn’t mean these places are any safer from the developers and drillers today than they were a year ago. There’s a big loophole in the policy nobody’s talking about. Yet. But more about that another day.

NDIC-PP 2.01. After May 1, 2014, any application for a permit within the following areas of interest that relates to public lands, shall comply with NDIC-PP 2.02 through NDIC-PP 2.04.

1. Black Butte – two miles from the maximum elevation of the butte. 

            2. Bullion Butte – two miles from the maximum elevation of the butte. 

            3. Camel’s Hump Butte – two miles from the maximum elevation of the butte. 

            4. Columnar Junipers (Limber Pines) and Burning Coal Vein – one mile from the exterior boundary of the former Dakota National Forest. 

            5. Confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers – two miles from the intersection of the centerline of the riverbeds. 

            6. Elkhorn Ranch – two miles from the exterior boundary of the National Park and State Park sites. 

            7. Killdeer Mountain Battlefield State Historic Site – one mile from the exterior boundary of each site. 

            8. Lake Sakakawea – one half mile from the shoreline at 1850′ msl elevation (i.e., the spillway elevation). 

            9. Little Missouri River – one mile from the centerline of the riverbed as it is determined at the time of the application. 

            10. Little Missouri River National Grasslands that are designated by the United States Forest Service as backcountry recreation areas. 

            11. Little Missouri State Park as of 1/1/2014 – one mile from the park’s exterior boundary. 

            12. Pretty Butte – two miles from the maximum elevation of the butte. 

            13. Sentinel Butte – two miles from the maximum elevation of the butte. 

            14. Theodore Roosevelt National Park – two miles from the park’s exterior boundaries. 

            15. Tracy Mountain – two miles from the maximum elevation of the mountain. 

            16. West Twin Butte – two miles from the maximum elevation of the butte. 

            17. White Butte in Slope County – two miles from the maximum elevation of the butte. 

            18. Wildlife Management Area not located within any other area of interest – one mile from the exterior boundary. 

That list, incidentally is copied directly from the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s website. They are very, very proud of their new policy. It is the first thing you see when you go to their website, at the very top of the page, even above the smiling photos of the three members of the Commission in their black suits and red ties, apparently their official Industrial Commission uniforms. You’ll also find the other provisions of the policy at the same place.

However, the list on the Oil and Gas Division’s website uses a different numbering system. I haven’t figured it out yet, but there’s a lot about the Oil and Gas Division I haven’t figured out yet. Here’s what’s on their website.

NDIC-PP 2.01. After May 1, 2014, any application for a permit within the following 

areas of interest that relates to public lands, shall comply with NDIC-PP 

2.2 through NDIC-PP 2.04. 

1. Black Butte – two miles from the maximum elevation of the butte. 

            2. Bullion Butte – two miles from the maximum elevation of the butte. 

            3. Camel’s Hump Butte – two miles from the maximum elevation of the butte. 

            7. Columnar Junipers (Limber Pines) and Burning Coal Vein – one 

            8. mile from the exterior boundary of the former Dakota National Forest. 

            9. Confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers – two miles from the intersection of the centerline of the riverbeds. 

            6. Elkhorn Ranch – two miles from the exterior boundary of the National Park and State Park sites. 

            10. Killdeer Mountain Battlefield State Historic Site – one mile from the 

exterior boundary of each site. 

            11. Lake Sakakawea – one half mile from the shoreline at 1850′ msl elevation (i.e., the spillway elevation). 

            9. Little Missouri River – one mile from the centerline of the riverbed as it is determined at the time of the application. 

            10. Little Missouri River National Grasslands that are designated by the United States Forest Service as backcountry recreation areas; 

            11. Little Missouri State Park as of 1/1/2014 – one mile from the park’s exterior boundary. 

            12. Pretty Butte – two miles from the maximum elevation of the butte. 

            13. Sentinel Butte – two miles from the maximum elevation of the butte. 

            14.Theodore Roosevelt National Park – two miles from the park’s exterior boundaries. 

            15. Tracy Mountain – two miles from the maximum elevation of the mountain. 

            16. West Twin Butte – two miles from the maximum elevation of the butte. 

            17. White Butte in Slope County – two miles from the maximum elevation of the butte. 

            18. Wildlife Management Area not located within any other area of interest – one mile from the exterior boundary. 

These are the people entrusted with our state’s future. No wonder I’m nervous.

 

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2 Responses to Meet The New “Drilling Permit Review Policy Commentary Analyst”

  1. Marvin Nelson says:

    We have the North Dakota Century Code, NDCC, and the North Dakota Administrative Code, NDAC. and now we have the North Dakota Industrial Commission Permit Policy, NDIC-PP. The NDIC-PP did not go through the rule making process and so violates the NDCC Administrative Agencies Practices Act. There is also the basic problem that eventually policy will not be available to the public such as the multitude of policies that the oil and gas division uses. In this case, the Industrial Commission is just pretending to have created something formal. Be real interesting when someone challenges it.

  2. Chester Dawson says:

    Hello. I’d like to hear more about the loophole and also can you let me know the best way to contact you directly (via the e-mail I provided)? Thanks.

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