The Democratization of Conservation

We have much to worry about in western North Dakota these days. I try to limit my worrying to the dangers posed by unbridled oil development to the countryside and its residents, both domestic and wild in the part of the state in which I grew up and have lived most of my life.

Many are worried about it. Tomorrow, the state’s top leaders will let us know if they are worried as well, when the Industrial Commission   decides at least the near-term the fate of a whole bunch of “extraordinary places.”

            No one believes the Bad Lands, or Bullion Butte, or the Little Missouri River, are going to go away. Many believe that unless we pay more careful attention to them, though, they are going to be irreversibly harmed. One of those men is Shane Mahoney.

            Shane Mahoney has never been to North Dakota, although I have invited him here, and he promises if his travels take him this way, he will stop.  Mr. Mahoney is the Founder and Executive Director of the Institute for Biodiversity, Ecosystem Science and Sustainability at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, headquartered in St. John’s Newfoundland. He is also the Founder and Executive Director of the Institute of Biodiversity, Ecosystem Science and Sustainability there. He is widely recognized as a leading authority on North American conservation history and policy and has been in the forefront of debates on issues of sustainable use within both the United States and Canada. He lectures widely to conservation organizations in the U.S. You can learn more about him here.

            I recently came across part 1 of an essay he has written recently on the “democratization of conservation.” Mr. Mahoney has given me permission to share it with you, and also part 2 when it is published. I’m sharing part 1 right now because his message is timely here, and because we can all relate to the man who, he says, truly democratized conservation: Theodore Roosevelt.

By Shane Mahoney

Wild nature staggers today before the onslaught of human population growth and the loss of habitat. Never in the geologic history of planet earth has the wondrous fabric of life been so torn and diminished. We live in the tidal swirl of disappearance, diminishment and extinction, racing beneath wild seas, across expansive savannahs and amid deep forests—indeed throughout all landforms and ecological systems. The patterns are evident in countries of wealth and of poverty; of nations powerful and weak; of cultures old and new; of societies learned and those yet striving for literacy—indeed all of mankind—white, black, yellow and red. Nature’s recession is a lesson in democratic decline. Nature’s recovery will be realized by democratic resurgence, the commitment of the many, and the engagement of the citizen-leader.

On September 6, 1901, anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot President William McKinley who was attending the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York. The president died of his wounds a week later, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as the nation’s 26th president. Through these tragic events, the course of American history changed.  For North American conservation, it was changed irrevocably. Beyond question in the area of natural history, Theodore Roosevelt was the most learned of American presidents (with the possible exception of Thomas Jefferson), and with respect to enacting policies for the protection of wildlife and their habitats, he remains indisputably the greatest. His tenure marked a crucial turning point for wildlife in North America. It emerged from its era of wanton destruction into one of conservation and restoration—a philosophical and practical overture remarkable for its power and longstanding authority.

Hunter, naturalist and scholar, Theodore Roosevelt made concern for wild nature a respectable study for political elites and for political agendas. This, beyond any other, was his greatest achievement. While it is common for writers and historians to emphasize his policies and legislation for wildlife, it was the cultural change he made in the political mindset toward conservation that has the limitless power for improvement and progression. Because of this, the already emerging public concern for wildlife, spearheaded by hunters and anglers throughout both the United States and Canada, could now find acceptance in legislatures and political meetings, forging a chain of action that linked local grassroots and everyday concerns for nature with corridors of power. Thus did the democratization of conservation occur. Hunters drove the debate at their community levels, and America’s most prominent citizen-hunter, President Roosevelt, made it a national and international priority. Seldom had the potential of democracy to befit all citizens been so concretely defined.

Like all aspects of democracy, however, the common good is attained by the individual effort, and in his individual striving for wildlife conservation, Roosevelt set an example for us all, hunter and non-hunter alike. During his presidency (1901-1909), the national forests were expanded by some 150 million acres—five national parks (including Sully’s Hill National Park in North Dakota, which later became Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve, located just south of Devils Lake) and 18 national monuments were established, 51 federal bird reserves were created, along with four game preserves. But even these incredible endowments—and inheritance of inestimable wealth proclaimed for the citizenry of the time and for generations unborn—do not complete Theodore Roosevelt’s achievements in conservation. In 1887 he was instrumental in founding the long influential Boone and Crockett Club, and in 1908, organized the first ever Conference on Conservation, bringing together the governors of states and the leadership of organizations and societies concerned with wildlife’s welfare. For the first time in the history of the New World, a national gathering was called to advance the idea of resource conservation, rather than exploitation. Determined from that meeting was a “Conservation Pledge,” a short hymn for the wild beauty and abundance of the American landscape and a call for citizen action to protect it. This doctrine was eventually disseminated to schools and agencies throughout the United States.

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Weekenders

Well, I haven’t done this for a while, but I have a few things on my mind, and it is a weekend, so I thought I’d just share them with you today.

NOBODY LOSES

Okay, so the paper says today that Warren Buffett’s BNSF Railway is going to upgrade its oil tanker fleet to make it safer. 5,000 new, safer tank cars. Now here’s a deal in which there are no losers.

First of all, the public wins because there are going to be safer cars on the railroad tracks.

Second, Buffett wins, because this is an all-Buffett deal. Here’s how it will work.

Berkshire Hathaway, which owns BNSF, is Buffett’s company. At first blush, this might not look like such a good deal for BNSF or Buffett, because building those new tank cars is going to be expensive. BNSF says it is going to call for bids on the new cars. They’re going to cost a lot of money.

Well, maybe, but I bet you I can tell you who is going to get the bid: a company called the Union Tank Car Company. See, the Union Tank Car Company builds tank cars—it’s their specialty—and it’s a subsidiary of another company called The Marmon Group. And—surprise—Berkshire Hathaway owns a controlling interest in The Marmon Group. So Buffett is going to be buying cars from himself—just moving BNSF money through Marmon to Union Tank Car.

But BNSF is not really in the business of managing a fleet of tank cars. Their specialty is locomotives and tracks. So they’re going to need someone to manage that fleet of 5,000 tankers, and keep them in good repair. Wanta bet that a company called Procor gets that work? Because Procor is North America’s largest tank car leasing and maintenance company. The oil companies who lease tanker cars now, those tankers that are pulled across the country by BNSF trains, are, for the most part, leasing them from Procor. And who do you suppose owns Procor? Well—surprise—Union Tank Car Company, which is owned by The Marmon Group, whch is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, which is owned by Warren Buffett.

So once the Union Tank Car Company builds those cars, Buffett is going to use some more BNSF money to lease them and have them managed by Procor.

See what I mean about no losers? In the end, Warren Buffet gets all the money. Except for the oil companies, of course, who, while paying Buffett to haul their product, get to sell it at the other end of the line. Oil companies like Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips. Whoops, wait a minute. Warren is going to get a chunk of that too. Because last November, Buffett bought 40 million shares of Exxon Mobil stock for three and a half billion dollars, making him the sixth largest shareholder in the world’s largest publicly traded oil company.

And, Buffett also owns 13.5 million shares of stock in Conoco Phillips, another one of the world’s largest oil companies. Conoco Phillips and Exxon Mobil are two of the big players in the Bakken. And in the Alberta tar sands oil field. So every time a barrel of oil comes out of the ground in North Dakota or Alberta, old Warren grins a little wider.

Well, that’s where the money trail ends. The oil companies sell the oil to a refiner, take the money and run. Warren takes his share of the oil company profits. And that’s that. Well, not quite. Because, you see, Warren not only owns a bunch of Conoco Phillips stock, but he also owns 27 million shares of Phillips 66, which just happens to be the nation’s largest independent gasoline refiner. I suppose a penny or two of that $3.30 a gallon gas you’re buying today goes to Warren.

Bottom line: Next time you fill up your car with gas, you know who wins—the man who has his fingers on that gasoline every step of the way, all the way back to sucking his oil from the ground, building his tanker, which is pulled by his locomotive on his tracks that’s hauling his oil from the Alberta Tar Sands or the Bakken to his east coast refineries, where they make his gas. Warren Buffett gets a piece of the action every step of the way. Wow.

If anyone wonders why Warren Buffett is the third richest man in the world, now you know. Because it looks to me like he’s the first smartest.

GOOD-BYE TO A FRIEND

Speaking of smart businessmen, I am sad this weekend about the passing of one of North Dakota’s great entrepreneurs, Harold Newman. I’ve been a fan of Harold’s for 30 years or so, because I am always in awe of people who are really good at what they do. And Harold was really good at what he did. He paid attention to the smallest details that could possibly affect his business, especially government, because when you’re in the sign business you deal with government at every level, every day.

I used to love it at the beginning of every legislative session when Harold would send Dean Anderson, his general manager and “chief lobbyist,” and a few of his salesmen over to the Capitol to check out the territory, to see if there were any bills around which might threaten his company’s ability to do business. Ever since the days of Lady Bird Johnson’s Highway Beautification Act, which put real brakes on the billboard industry, Harold paid attention to the Legislature, and stayed in touch with the Congressional delegation over possible new federal regulations on his industry. And then, if things got touchy in Bismarck, like they did during the Logo Signs debate in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Harold himself would show up and call his loyal Jamestown legislators together, Republican and Democrats alike, because Newman Signs was a big employer in Jamestown, and they’d plot strategy, and by the end of the session, things would turn out all right.

More than that, though, he was fun to be around. He and I did a piece of business once, having to do with some goofy billboards around the state (Mountain Removal Project Complete) and it was about the most fun I ever had during my nearly 8 years in government. He once introduced me to some friends of his as “the most creative man in North Dakota,” and that was high praise, because Harold pretty much defined creativity in the North Dakota business world.

I’ve got a brother-in-law who worked for Harold for more than 20 years, who called Harold “the best employer I ever had.” Now retired, my brother-in-law said “The pay was average—about the same as other places—but we had more fun. It was a great place to work.”

He’s pretty much singlehandedly responsible for our state’s first roadside icon, the giant buffalo beside I-94 in Jamestown, and was the biggest supporter of our state’s tourism industry I can think of. I’m gonna honk my horn and give Harold a shout out every time I pass that buffalo from now on.

He reminded me often of the other great, creative, North Dakota entrepreneur and businessman named Harold, and I’ll bet that Harold cracked open a new bottle of Scotch the other night when this Harold, his old friend, arrived, and I bet they’re having a jolly old time.

ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION

The story on the front page of the Bismarck Tribune Wednesday said the state Commission on Alternatives to Incarceration, made up of legislators, judges, lawyers and policemen, is looking for ways to free up limited  space in the state’s pokies without compromising public safety. Well, here’s one suggestion for the commission: Quit locking up people for possession of firecrackers!

Did you see either one of the stories? Never mind the first one. It’s the second one that’s just plain goofy. A couple of local rowdies got pulled over for speeding in Bismarck the other night. Dude driving was drunk. He got hauled away to the pokey to sober up. Next day was Sunday, so they just kept him there over the weekend, and on Tuesday he went to court and pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of drunk driving and got a $500 fine and 10 days suspended jail time.

But the policeman spotted some Black Cat firecrackers (man, I’ve fired off a few thousand of those over the years) in the car, which belonged to his girlfriend, who owned the car and was a passenger, and they hauled her in to jail on a misdemeanor charge of “possession of fireworks.” She spent three nights there, and in court on Tuesday she was sentenced to three days in jail with credit for time served, and released.

Huh? You serious? You can go to jail for possessing firecrackers in Bismarck? Well, I looked it up. Chapter 4-07-06 of the Bismarck City Code, Section 3301.1.3, reads

Fireworks. The possession, manufacture, storage, sale, handling, and use of fireworks are prohibited.

Um, okay. But has anyone ever gone to jail for that before? The police department spokesman said it is “very unusual” for someone to be jailed on a fireworks charge. Well, I should hope so.

Because for the last few days of June and the first few days of July every year, the city is ringed with fireworks stands. Because of our ordinance, they’re not allowed to be sold in town, but you can usually buy them on every major road leading into town, right on the fringe of the city limits. And thousands of Bismarckers stock up and then take them home, and then take them to the lake or down to the river on Independence Day and shoot them.

But now we know that the moment they cross the line back into the city limits from that fireworks stand, they’re looking at three days hard time. I’d say our jail is going to get pretty crowded the first week of July. And I’d say the fireworks dealers better get in and have a little talk with the City Commission about enforcement. Or it could be a pretty dreary Fourth of July around here.

Oh, and I came across another goofy ordinance while I was looking up this one. Section 6-05-05 of the Bismarck City Code:

Throwing of Missiles. It is unlawful for any person to throw or discharge any stone, snowball or any similar object or other missile, including fireworks, upon, in or at any vehicle, building or upon or at any person

“Okay, you kids over there, yeah, you, having the snowball fight: Up against the Wall! Now!”

MADE ME THINK OF EARL

In the 1981 Legislature, Republicans controlled the North Dakota House 73-27, and the Senate 40-10–supermajorities in both houses. In a real show of arrogance one day midway through the session, House Majority Leader Earl Strinden told a newspaper reporter “The bills I want to pass will pass.” Democrats used that arrogance against him in the 1982 campaign, and amazingly captured a majority in the House.

I was reminded of that the other day when I read a story about the North Dakota Farm Bureau in the paper in which Farm Bureau lobbyist Jeff Missling was talking about a bill in the 2013 Legislature dealing with animal cruelty, which passed in spite of Farm Bureau opposition. Missling denied lobbying against the bill, and said “If we wanted to kill that bill, we could have.” Gee, when did the Farm Bureau start voting on bills?

C’MON BILL, LIGHTEN UP

Okay, goldarn it, Bill Bowman is a half-assed friend of mine, and I kind of like him, and he kind of likes me. We’re from the same part of the state, and he’s been the state senator from my old home district for many years. It’s a real Republican district and often nobody even bothers to run against him, although after his tantrum the other day, I hope somebody does this year.

At a Farm  Bureau meeting out in Dickinson the other night, Bill went on a rant about Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s “Extraordinary Places” proposal:

This an insult to landowners,” Bowman said. “The biggest part of the area they are looking at is in my district. I can say this: If they ram this down our throats, we’ll shut down everything in western North Dakota. I’ll get a group of landowners together and shut down hunting on a huge area of private land. You can call me a radical, but that might be the last alternative we have.”

Okay, Bill, I’ll bite. You’re a radical. Now we’ll just wait and see if they indeed “ram it down your throat” and if you make good at shutting down hunting in western North Dakota. I’ll be checkin’ in with you to see how that’s going in a few months.

Finally, because we’re heading into a weekend, and because I’m going on a little vacation for a week or so, let me lighten up your day with a little story about Bill.

My dear departed mother was a resident of Hettinger, in Bill’s district, almost all of her life. My mother took her politics seriously, but she didn’t vote party line until late in her life, when she became a pretty tough Democrat. She mostly voted for people she liked, and people she thought would do a good job. One of those she liked was her State Senator, Rick Maixner of New England. Rick was involved in the same veterans’ organizations as my dad, and they became fast friends, and when my dad died, Rick came and spent a good bit of time with Mom. Rick gets the credit for making her a really strong Democrat. Mom even held a fundraiser for Rick at her home one year. And then, in 1990, Rick either moved away or lost the election to Bill Bowman, I don’t remember which, but Bill became Senator, and Mom was heartbroken.

Oh, Bill treated her well, was respectful, and came to the door campaigning from time to time, but Rick had been her Senator, and she just couldn’t get over that.

So, fast forward to about 2006, and Mom had moved to the nursing home in Hettinger, and was no longer ambulatory, so the nice folks at the nursing home helped her fill out an absentee ballot application, and got the ballot, and brought it to her in the nursing home. And one October morning she sat down at the table in the dining room to fill out her ballot, like she had done so many times in her 80-plus years. And it was one of those years when nobody filed to run against Bill Bowman for Senator, so when she got to that spot on the ballot, her only choice for Senator was Bill Bowman. I was working at my desk in Bismarck when my cell phone rang, and I looked down at the caller ID and saw it was my mom’s cell phone number calling me. I answered and we had some small talk, and then I said “What’s up?”

“Well,” she said “I’ve got my absentee ballot here, and the only name on the ballot for State Senator is Bill Bowman. Do I HAVE to vote for him?”

I laughed and said “No, Mom, you can just leave it blank if you don’t want to vote for him.”

“Oh, good,” she said. “I was afraid they would throw my ballot out if I didn’t vote. Thank you!”

“Bye Mom.”

I told Bill that story a few years ago, and he laughed too.

Note to Bill: My mom married a hunter, and raised a lot of sons and grandsons to be hunters, and she wouldn’t like that kind of talk from you at the Farm Bureau meeting the other night.

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A New Look At A Couple Of Old Problems

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.

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“Hey, Sailor . . .”

Well, okay, if you have been following my attention to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s effort to designate a bunch of places as “extraordinary” and to be careful when permitting oil wells around them, you know that I’ve kind of hoped that we had arrived at a policy that could be signed off on by all three members of the Industrial Commission. Well, forget that shit. The oil industry has been hammering pretty hard on Jack Dalrymple, and we’re not likely to get his support for anything more than some window dressing around our federal parks and wildlife areas, which are already pretty much protected from drilling. More seriously, the third member of the Commission, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, is being threatened with the loss of his job if backs even that much. His own friends in his strongest constituency, the North Dakota Farm Bureau, have turned on him, and have brought forth their own candidate for Agriculture Commissioner to challenge his re-election efforts.

That sent Goehring scrambling to his computer, where he sent an e-mail to his Farm Bureau friends that said “I have always been a strong advocate for private property rights, which is the fundamental belief of landowners. The North Dakota Industrial Commission has been reviewing a proposal regarding protection from oil and gas exploration and recovery on areas in North Dakota deemed ‘extraordinary places.’ I believe this is an effort to significantly curtail oil activity on both public and private lands. I support a policy that excludes private lands from public comment. It is paramount that we protect private property rights of landowners.” (emphasis added)

The Say Anything Blog had an extensive report on Goehring yesterday, which included that e-mail and a whole bunch more interesting things about him. You can read it all by going here.

Probably the most damning thing in that and all the news reports today are the allegations of impropriety around female members of his staff.

There have been rumblings since late fall around Bismarck about Goehring having a “Leo Reinbold problem.” Reinbold, you’ll recall, was the Republican Public Service Commissioner who resigned in disgrace a few years ago amid charges of sexual harassment. His Lotharian efforts were well known around the Capitol, so when rumors started to surface about Goehring, folks assumed they were discussing similar goings-on. Turns out the scale was somewhat different, but having a female member of your staff walk on your back in a hotel room far from home still goes beyond the pale. In fact, when I read about that, I had to giggle, flashing back about 45 years to my shore leave days in the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific, when those tantalizing young Asian girls on the street corners and in the doorways of the bars would curl a finger and beckon me toward them while cooing, temptingly, “Hey, sailor . . .” I heard it was a very pleasurable experience. End of that story.

Let’s see. Where was I? Oh, yeah, special places. Nah, never mind. That deal is pretty much dead. Oh, Dalrymple and Stenehjem (you know, one of the best things to come out of this whole effort by the Attorney General is that I can finally type Dalrymple and Stenehjem without stumbling–although my computer still draws a red line under them) are going to pass something, but it will not be meaningful. I mean, the next to the last paragraph in their proposed policy, as it is written now, reads “All comments (by the public and state agencies) 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. (emphasis added) Now there’s a policy with a lot of teeth!

Good thing they added that line, though, because at the same time Karlene Fine, the executive director of the Industrial Commission, was typing that, Lynn Helms, the director of the Division of Mineral Resources was typing an e-mail to Matt Sagsveen, Stenehjem’s lead attorney in developing this policy, that said “I just don’t see much value in public comment.” I can think of a few Governors who would have been out looking for a new division director after an arrogant, asinine comment like that. With that attitude, Helms is going to get along fine with the new candidate for Agriculture Commissioner, Judy Estenson, who said in her announcement speech yesterday, in typical Tea Party fashion, that her policy will be to “keep government at bay.” (There, I finally got back to what I really wanted to talk about today–politics.)

I read that and kind of wondered how she feels about a farm bill. According to the Environmental Working Group’s farm subsidy database, Judy Estenson and her husband Hal, who farm near Warwick in Benson County, have received nearly $200,000 in government subsidies since 1995. Keeping government at bay?

The Estensons are real pikers, though, compared to their chief cheerleader, North Dakota Farm Bureau President Doyle Johannes. His take from the government since 1995, in the form of subsidies to his farm, is $1,143,330. Johannes leads the farm group whose mission statement says it is organized to “advocate for agriculture and enhance the economic opportunities of our membership while promoting individual freedoms and self reliance.” Uh huh. Self reliance.

But back to politics. Does Estenson have a shot at knocking off Goehring at a convention or a primary? Well, it would be unlikely, but it happens. In 1988, the Republican Party, at its state convention, rejected incumbent Agriculture Commissioner H. Kent Jones in favor of Red River Valley farmer Keith Bjerke. Instead of running in the June Primary Election, where he probably could have beaten Bjerke because of much greater name identification, Jones chose instead to run as a third party candidate in the fall. As a result, he and Bjerke split the Republican vote, and voters chose Democrat Sarah Vogel to be Agriculture Commissioner. Vogel ran a great campaign, beating Bjerke by almost 20,000 votes, but if Jones’ total had been added to Bjerke’s, she’d have lost. Democrats controlled the office for 20 years after that.

Vogel served two terms, and halfway through her administration, she hired Roger Johnson, a Turtle Lake farmer, to run her farm mediation program, and Johnson proved to be immensely popular with the agriculture community. The result was that he succeeded Vogel in 1996 and served 12 years in the post before resigning to take a position as President of the National Farmers Union. Upon his resignation in 2009, Governor John Hoeven appointed Goehring, whom Johnson had beaten twice, to the post. Goehring was elected to serve a full term in 2010, a term which is now coming to an end. We’ll see if he can survive Estenson’s challenge, and if so, a challenge from a Democratic-NPL candidate. I can imagine Democrats might be hoping for a repeat of 1988, with two Republicans splitting the vote in November.

So far, no Democrats have come forward, but the current controversy could draw a crowd. Or, some speculate it could draw a candidate no other Democrat is likely to challenge: the 2012 Democratic-NPL candidate for Governor, Ryan Taylor, who remains immensely popular in his party. My guess is, if he wants the nomination, it is his for the asking. And he could win, returning the post back to the Democrats, who have held it all but 13 of the past 40 years (8 years for Jones, 5 for Goehring), since then-Governor Art Link appointed a relatively unknown state senator from LaMoure County, Myron Just, following the death of Arne Dahl in office in 1974. Just served six years and then went back to his farm. Just won election to his only complete term in 1976 by almost 80,000 votes, at the time, and still, one of the largest winning margins by a candidate ever for a state constitutional office.

It remains to be seen what happens to Goehring. Will the party decide he’s an embarrassment for the “back-walking” incident and for calling female members of his staff his “harem?” Will the fact that, after his indiscretions, his announced opponent is a woman, have any effect on that? Does the Farm Bureau, widely acknowledged to be in the Republican camp already, have the muscle to sway a state convention? Does Goehring, a former Farm Bureau state vice president, have friends outside the top tier of today’s organization who won’t be eager to dump one of their own? Can the Farm Bureau leaders who are behind Estenson’s move salt the Republican district conventions with enough rank and file members to grab the state convention delegate slots? The state convention is two full months away. District conventions start soon, and both Goehring and Estenson will have to travel to all 47 of them trying to convince delegates to support them. Throws a real screw into any winter plans Goehring might have had. I asked a Republican friend of mine last night in an e-mail “Is Goehring toast?” The response: “No, but he’s in the toaster.”

One last benefit of all this: I can now also type Goehring without stumbling. Why can’t these Republicans have easy names to spell like Guy, or Link, or Sinner? Sheesh.

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“Let’s Build Our Own Pipeline”

So, now it is up to the President. The Keystone Pipeline will be built, or not, depending on, unfortunately, which political faction he wants to believe. Sadly, it has come to that. President Obama was elected partly, maybe even substantially, by people who believed he wanted to protect the environment and people who believed he wanted to create jobs.

Both sides right now can claim the other side’s arguments ring hollow. Both, I suppose, would be partly right. I’ve tended to side with those who believe this particular pipeline is a bad idea. I’m staying with that side, and I’ll tell you why. Not why the pipeline is a bad idea, but why I’ve stayed with that side. And what I think we ought to do instead. At least from a North Dakota perspective. I’ve written about this before if you want to go back and review.

I am really tired of all the bullshit I keep hearing from our politicians about why we need to build this pipeline. John Hoeven, Heidi Heitkamp and Kevin Cramer continue to stick with their line that the Keystone XL pipeline is good for North Dakota. That’s the bullshit I’m tired of. Most of their argument stems from a promise by the people building Keystone that they will take 100,000 barrels of oil a day from the Bakken and send it to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, extended that offer a few years ago in order to get some U.S. support for the pipeline. The pipeline has the capacity to transport more than 800,000 barrels of oil per day. When they opened up the season for Bakken companies to contract for part of that capacity, up to 100,000 barrels, the industry here only committed 65,000 barrels. So there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm in the industry here for the project. Just in the last few months, the Bakken’s biggest player, Harold Hamm of Continental Resources, said he didn’t need the Keystone Pipeline. He said trains are doing a good enough job for him. Now, before you get on a rant telling me trains are dangerous, let me finish, and then we’ll address that point. I want to stay on this “bullshit” point a bit longer.

I’ve seen two newspaper reports stating that building the Keystone Pipeline could take 500 trucks a day off North Dakota highways, one of those by Sen. John Hoeven a year or so ago and the other, just this morning, by Ron Ness. I don’t know where they get that number. I think they made it up. Because the Keystone pipeline doesn’t come to North Dakota. The closest it gets is Baker, Montana, just west of Bowman, North Dakota, down in the southwest corner of our state, a long way from the Bakken.

And that’s where the TransCanada people say they will let the Bakken crude into the pipeline to mix with the Alberta tar sands oil. Thing is, the oil has to get to Baker somehow. There are a couple of smaller  pipelines (you can look at a map of all the oil and gas pipelines in the state by clicking on that link), running from North Dakota out to Baker now, the Belle Fourche and Bridger Pipelines, both owned by True Oil Company out of Casper, WY, but, based on this notice from the True Oil website, I’ve got to guess they’re already being used:

NOTICE TO SHIPPERS IN THE WILLISTON BASIN 

Belle Fourche and Bridger Pipeline (“the Pipelines”) have recently received crude oil shipments containing high levels of H2S which have materially affected the common stream and created safety hazards at certain delivery locations. The Pipelines’ Rules and Regulations allow the Pipelines to reject such crude oil from any injection facilities.  

If a shipper or facility owner delivers crude oil with high H2S into the Pipelines without the Pipelines’ prior approval, the Pipelines reserve the right to shut down such injection facility and will seek reimbursement for any damages caused by the unauthorized delivery.  

If a safe accommodation can be found, which shall be determined in the Pipelines’ sole discretion, the Pipelines will accept the high H2S crude oil into its system.  The Pipelines’ prior approval must be obtained before a shipper can inject any crude oil with H2S into the system.  

                So you’ve got to imagine the oil companies are scrambling right now to clean up their act, to keep those pipelines full of Bakken crude. Well, then how does any new oil from the Bakken get to Baker? Only thing I can think of is trucks. By truck, it’s about a hundred and fifty miles from either Watford City or Williston, and much further from the northern reaches of the Bakken or Mountrail County, where the big play is right now. Any way you look at it, it is a full-day trip for a truck full of oil on North Dakota’s two-lane highways. So maybe Hoeven and Ness just got mixed up and meant to say there would be 500 MORE trucks per day on the North Dakota highways if we build Keystone. Or, maybe there’s already enough oil running through those pipelines to Baker to fill up the capacity TransCanada says it will take, which would mean no change in the number of trucks on the road today, doing what they’ve already been doing. Either way, the “taking 500 trucks a day off the road” is bullshit.

The other thing I keep hearing from politicians is the phrase “energy independence.” Getting rid of our dependence on foreign oil. More bullshit. Even our own Heidi Heitkamp said in a press release “The Department of Energy confirms that the transported oil will be refined and used in the United States.”

Well, I can’t find that anywhere on the Department of Energy’s website.  What I CAN find is dozens of stories that dispute that fact. The Energy Department’s own website does say that gasoline is one of the nation’s largest exports, going mostly to Latin America, mostly from Gulf coast refineries, and that exports of refined products increased from 1.8 million to 3.2 million barrels from 2008 to 2011.  The fact is, Keystone XL is an export pipeline. The industry has said repeatedly that Gulf Coast refiners plan to refine the cheap Canadian crude supplied by the pipeline into diesel and other products for export to Europe and Latin America. Proceeds from these exports are earned tax-free. Much of the fuel refined from the pipeline’s heavy crude oil will never reach U.S. drivers’ tanks. Read this story from CNN if you want your eyes opened.

Even our own Harold Hamm says that. Speaking at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference a couple years ago, Hamm said he’s bothered by the $15 per barrel differential between Bakken crude and other oil caused by transportation bottlenecks, according to this Bismarck Tribune story. “What we need is pipeline to get oil to water so we can export it. People ask me which pipeline I support and I say I’m going to support all the pipelines to get rid of that differential,” Hamm said.

Finally, most experts agree that the completion of the Keystone will result in higher gas prices for those of us here in the Midwest, as cheap Canadian oil bypasses Midwest refineries and goes directly to the Gulf for export. Here’s a good analysis of that.

So that pretty much takes away whatever arguments North Dakota politicians are using to blast the President. The President is a pretty sharp guy, though, surrounded by some pretty sharp people. I have to hope, and think, that he’s got the correct information in front of him as he makes his decision.

But I’ve said here before that I am going to try to not just offer criticism here without offering an alternative. Besides, we’re being beat over the head these days, rightfully so, on how much safer it would be to ship out oil in pipelines instead of trains. Well, no matter what we do, we’re not going to see a decrease in train traffic. We’re only a fourth of the way to the 40,000 oil wells the industry tells us we’re going to get, and the trains are pretty much full, so if we don’t find an alternative way to get the oil out of North Dakota, to whatever refineries will take it, the industry is at some point going to have shut down. We need additional means of transporting it, and a pipeline is probably the best bet. Just not Keystone. Because North Dakota is now producing a million barrels a day, out of just ten thousand wells, and we’re going to forty thousand wells, so even if all 100,000 barrels a day that Transcanada says they will put in their pipe from the Bakken was going to come from North Dakota, that would be, well, a drop in the bucket of what we’re producing.

Some people say we should build more refineries. Well, that really doesn’t solve anything, because we’d still have to ship the refined product. And shipping gasoline and diesel is certainly more dangerous than shipping crude.

But more and more people are starting to say “Let’s build our own pipeline.”

Well, why not? We could afford it. If we owned the pipeline ourselves, we could send our crude  oil anywhere we want it to go. We wouldn’t have to ship it to the Gulf for export. We could put the oil in our own pipeline right here in North Dakota, instead of trucking it to Baker, Montana, and we could ship it to refineries nearer population centers, which could indeed refine it for use right here at home. We’d just say to the oil industry “Here’s the deal: We’ll build you a pipeline, you’ll save a bunch of money shipping your crude to refineries, but it’s going to go to domestic refineries for domestic use.” Y’know what? I bet we could make some deals.

We’d create a bunch of jobs. About as many as Keystone would create, I’d guess. We’d start down the road to energy independence. We really would get 500 (or maybe even 5,000?) trucks a day off our roads. We wouldn’t have to wait six years for a president to sign off. Gee, where have I heard all those arguments before?

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A One-Act Play

Act 1, Scene 1

Tuesday afternoon, January 28, 2014

Stage is dark, we hear the sound of a cell phone ringing, ringtone music: “Take the Money and Run.

Man’s Voice: Hello, this is Jack.

Hi, Jack, Harry Hamm here. Boy it sure is nice to have the Governor’s private cell phone number so I don’t have to go through all the trouble of bothering your girl out front there.

No problem, Harry, it’s important for us team members to stay in touch. What’s up?

Well, a few of the boys are in town, and we thought we might get together for steaks and scotch tonight, and we thought you might enjoy a little getaway before your big Industrial Commission meeting tomorrow. Seven o’clock in the ballroom at the Radisson?

You bet, I’ll be there.

Scene 2

Tuesday evening, January 28, 2014

Ballroom, Bismarck Radisson Hotel

Well, Hi there, Jack, did the limo driver I sent for you have any trouble finding us?

Nope, just fine Harry. Gosh that was nice, I remember when the Governor used to have a limo and a driver, back before that last Governor from Casselton moved in here and scrapped it for his old beat up Suburban. Thanks for the ride.

No problem there, Jack. Say, there’s a few of the boys here you haven’t met, thought you might like to. I know you got stuff in the mail from them, little notes with those big checks they sent, heh, heh, but they thought they’d like to just get a little better acquainted before that big Industrial Commission meeting tomorrow, where that lawyer friend of yours from across the hall is going to bring some silly old policy to you which would really get in the way of how these boys like to do business.

This here’s old Dale Behan from Fort Worth, you might remember he kicked in $27,500 for your campaign a couple years ago, even beating my $20,000 check. Stepped right up there, he did, looking out for you in that tough campaign against that cowboy.

Oh, and look over here, this here’s Don Bottrell from Billings, Diamond B company, big player out there in the oil patch. You remember his $10,000 check, don’t you? And he’s talking to Corbin Robertson, you might remember his $25,000 check. Old Corbin, he’s got Quintana Minerals down there in Houston, big player out in western North Dakota here now. Tell ya what, Jack, looks like these boys have got themselves lined up to greet you, let’s just start down the line here, I’ll let them introduce themselves, where they’re from , and remind you how much their check was for. Those checks got you that big win two years ago, you know.

Lenny Behm, Behm Energy (Me and my two sons kicked in $10,000. Howdy, Governor.)

Chris Anderson International Western Co., Williston $10,000. Good to see you again, Jack.

Dan Borgen US Development Group, Houston, $8,000

Mike Armstrong,. Dickinson, Armstrong Operating (Me and my boy put in $14,000)

Dean Anagost, Kadrmas, Lee and Jackson, (Guys from our company must be up in that $15,000 range by now.)

Michael Forman, I’m a lawyer from Texas who works for a lot of oil companies, $5,000

Thomas Nusz, Oasis Petroleum, Dickinson $7,500

John Earley, Peak Energy Durango, CO,  $4,000

Clarence Cazalot, Marthon Oil, $5,000

Tracy Turner, Armada Pressure Control, Williston, $8,000

John Barry, Las Vegas, $25,000

Mark Johnsrud, Badlands Power Fuels, Watford City, $8,000

Donald Kessel, Murex Petroleum, Humble, TX, $5,000

Loren Kopseng, Rainbow Gas, Bismarck, $6,600

David Roberts, Marathon Oil, Houston, $5,000 (and my PAC kicked in another $5,000)

Chris Anderson, International Western Co., Williston, $17,500

Tony Hauck, Missouri Basin Well Services, $6,620 (and my bosses, Jim and Jody Arthuad, put in another ten grand, besides that $10,000 check to the North Dakota Republican Party)

Bob Mau, Eagle Operating, Kenmare, $26,000

John Schmitz, Gainesville, TX, $15,000

Wow, that was quite a lineup there, Harry, and I’m sure grateful for all that campaign help.

Well, Jack, there’s a few more on the other side of the room—see that line over there? They’d like to shake your hand too. Why don’t you start down that line while I get you another one of those scotches?

Well, hi there, Governor, I’m Michael Moore, just a country lawyer from down there in Fort Worth, Texas, but I know what a pain in the ass us lawyers can be when we go and get ourselves elected Attorney General, and I know you’ve got some important business to look out for us there tomorrow at that Industrial Commission meeting. Oh, by the way, I sent a check your way for $2,500. You can just start down the line here if you want.

Hi, Governor, Mike Ames, Trenton, ND, $1,000

Kent Beers Billings, MT, $1,000

David Bole, Houston, $1,000

Dale Branson Williston, $2,000

Michael Brunstein, Denver $1,500

Eileen Campbell, Marathon Oil, Houston, you met some of my partners over there. I sent $2,500

Robert Clark, Beartrack Energy, $2,500

Elizabeth Claude, Victor Pipeline, Houston, $500

Fred Evans, Stanley, $2,000

Richard Fairservis, Casper, WY, $2,000

Jeff Farstad, Minot, $2,500,

Mike Fitzmaurice, Tri Star Minerals, Minot, $2,000

James Huffman, Williston, $1,000

Ray Kuntz, Helena, MT, $1,000

Michael Lou, Oasis Petroleum, Houston, $1,000

Lee McIntire, Denver, $1,000

Neil McMurry, Casper, WY, $1,000

Stephen Mercer, Northern Plains Energy, Evergreen, CO, $1,500

Kathleen Neset, Tioga (I gave $1,250 and I’d be interested in being on the North Dakota Board of Higher Education in my spare time, if you have any openings)

Cody Ortowski, S&S Directional Drilling, Gainesville, TX, $2,500

Thomas Powers, Williston, $2,000

Lois Scheele, Williston, $3,500

Craig Slawson, Greenwood Village, CO, $1,000

Todd Slawson, Denver, $750

Robert Solberg, Texaco, Houston, $2,000

James Volker, Whiting Petroleum, Greenwood Village, CO, $2,500

Andrew Wambsganss, Southlake, TX, $2,500

John Washabaugh, United Energy, Highland Ranch, CO, $1,000

Martin White, MDU Resources, $2,000

Newton Wilson III, Houston, $2,500

Ronnie Witherspoon, Nabors Petroleum, Houston, $2,500

Paul Yale, Kingwood, TX, $1,000

Frank Bavendick, Bismarck, $3,000

Mike Fitzmaurice, Minot, $3,750

Ray Hunt, Dallas, $1,000

Bruce Hunt, Dallas, $1000 (Yeah, Governor, we’re from THAT Hunt family)

Raymond Plank, Apache, Clearmont, WY, $1,000

Bill Schriock, Gravel Products, Minot, $5,000

Todd Feid, Oasis Petroleum, $2,000

Todd Ballantyne, Ballantyne Oil and Gas, Westhope, $6,000

Mike Cantrell, Continental Resources, Ada, OK (I was wondering if my boss Harry was ever going to send you around. He leaned on me pretty hard to write that $5,000 check. Hoping my good faith effort results in a little $5,000 bonus at the end of the year.)

Lawrence Bender, Bismarck $5,000 (I’m from right here in Bismarck, Governor, but a lot of my clients are in the oil business. Pretty much all of them, in fact)

Well, there you are governor, almost got lost with this glass of scotch in this big crowd of friends of yours. Now, let’s see, where’s Ron Ness? I’m guessing he sent a lot of PAC checks your way. Oh, there he is. Hey, Ron, remind the Governor here about those oil company PAC checks you sent.

Well, sure, Governor, let’s see, there was that $10,000 check from my own PAC, North Dakota OilPAC, and then there was

Chesapeake PAC, Oklahoma City, $6,000

Denbury Resources PAC, Plano, TX, $6,000 (a drop in the bucket, Governor, when you add up to all the money they spent on cleaning up their spills and paying their fines)

Exxon Mobil PAC, Irving, TX, $2,000

YPAC, Los Angeles, $5,000

MDU Resources Group PAC, $3,800

Newfield PAC, Denver, $2,000

Oneok Empoloyees PAC, Topeka, KS, $1,000

QEP resources PAC, Denver, $2,000

Tesoro Petroleum PAC, Mandan, $1,000 (They’d have given more, Governor, but they were saving up in case they had to clean up a big spill up near Tioga or something.)

WPX Energy Inc., PAC, Washington, DC, $5,000

Whiting Petroleum PAC, Denver, $1,000

Conoco Philips, $1,000

Exxon Mobil, $600

Marathon, $10,000

Hess, $25,000

NuStar, San Antonio, TX, $2,500

OXYPAC, Los Angeles, $500

QEP North Dakota PAC, Denver, $1,000

Well, that was quite a little trip around the room, eh, Governor? You know, I had one of my girls add all those checks up that came to you to help with that little old campaign of yours, and it came to about $430,000. Now, how about you and I take a little walk back to that limo and have a little conversation about that Industrial Commission meeting tomorrow morning. You know, there really isn’t much all that special about those special places, is there?

Scene 3

Wednesday, January 29, 2014, 11:30 a.m.

North Dakota Capitol Building

Well, As the Governor and chairman, I’ll call this meeting of the North Dakota Industrial Commission to order. My friend Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has a little idea for shutting down the oil industry here in North Dakota, so I’m going to suggest he make a motion to postpone (for a long time, I hope) making a decision on his list of what he calls “special places.” Don’t want to stifle free enterprise, you know. All in favor? Motion carries.

 

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Here’s The Map North Dakota Leaders Didn’t Want You to See

Well, I don’t want to always be the bearer of bad tidings, but it is good to know what is going on in the world around us. In the words of British philosopher Sir Francis Bacon, “Knowledge is power.” The Dakota Resource Council has brought us some knowledge this week about bad things happening around us, namely oil industry spills.

The DRC has helped to publicize a map that leaders in North Dakota state government didn’t want you to see.

It is a map of all the oil, saltwater and other hazardous materials spills in North Dakota’s oilfield since 2000. It is ugly. It makes me sad. You can look at it here. It is an interactive map. You can zoom in and out, and click on any of the thousands of little dots that denote a spill and it will take you to a link with the North Dakota Health Department’s oil incident report for that spill. See a dot next to the farm you grew up on? Click on it and find out what happened. It’s that easy.

What you get from this map that you don’t get from the Health Department’s  hazardous material spill website is a sense of the magnitude of the problem and a look at “hotspots” where so many spills have occurred in a small area that it is obvious there is a problem that needs to be addressed by environmental authorities. For example, go to the map and look at the small area south of Marmarth, in the extreme southwest corner of the state, where the map shows more than 200 saltwater spills, 150 oil spills(although most of them small), and 50 “other” spills which included things like the solvent methyldietthanolamine (MDEA), emulsion, drilling mud, oil mist and source water. These spills are outside the Bakken and occurred mostly before 2011, in an area where there was a mini-boom, headquartered in Bowman, in the early part of this century, before all the rigs were pulled out and sent north to the Bakken when that play became so profitable.

But there are plenty of hotspots in the Bakken. You can zoom in on this map right down to individual sections, and there’s a section of land northwest of Tioga , section 7, Township 158N, Range 95W, (on the map it’s at the intersection of 77th St. NW and 107th Ave. NW) where eight saltwater spills have occurred in the past few years. The land in that section must be just toasted.

And the concentration of spills along the shoreline of Lake Sakakawea (from which most of us in central and western North Dakota get our drinking water) is very troubling. (There’s a reason why Wayne Stenehjem included Lake Sakakawea on his list of “Special Places.”) I know that the Health Department is monitoring these, to the extent their resources allow, but they are stretched pretty thin.

But zooming out to see the big picture is pretty scary. Eight thousand dots on this map provide a visual picture of the Health Department’s list. And they’re not all there, at least not yet. For instance, the big 865,000 gallon spill at Tioga last September is not on the map. I’m not sure why, but it might be because the Health Department has taken that spill report off its Oilfield Environmental Incidents list and moved it to its General Environmental Incidents list, and the map is drawn from the Oilfield Incidents list. I don’t know why, they just have. So maybe the mapmaker didn’t find it.

The mapmaker, by the way, is a young fellow out in Montana by the name of Josh Gage. He’s good. He said he just got a new “platform” for his GIS business and wanted to try it out, and so he thought he would make a map like this of his home state, because he had heard of a lot of spills in the eastern part of Montana. Unfortunately, he learned, the Montana records are slips of paper in a file cabinet, not an online database like North Dakota’s. North Dakota’s database, incidentally, is brand new, put there late last year after that massive oil spill at Tioga called our attention to the fact that there were thousands of spills occurring and no one was notifying the general public.

So in the absence of a Montana database, he decided to make a map of North Dakota spills. He called the State Health Department here and asked if he could get access to the database so it would be a simple matter of downloading it and plugging it into his GIS system. He was told “No.” He would have to submit a FOIA request to get that. Well, Josh decided he didn’t have the thousands of dollars or the thousands of hours it would take to make that happen, so he just went to each individual page of the website and copied and pasted all 8,000 entries, 17 per page, one page at a time.

The other thing he couldn’t get from the North Dakota Health Department were the GIS coordinates (latitude and longitude, for us laymen) of the spills, so he could only make the map accurate down to the township, range and section, instead of the exact location of the spills. So each dot on the map is in the proper section of land, accurate to within one mile, not right down to the exact location within that section.

Josh had nothing bad to say about the Health Department. He just told me, when I asked, what would have made his job easier.

Last year I was told by someone who knows, when the Health Department website first went online in early December, that there were three things missing that could be helpful—a map, a downloadable database and GIS coordinates. Young Josh the mapmaker confirmed that for me. There’s no reason those things couldn’t be available, but someone at the Health Department, or, as I said in an earlier post, someone at a higher pay grade, doesn’t want them there. My conversation with Josh confirmed that those are the three things missing.

I asked Josh if he would be willing to contract with the Health Department to put his map on their website and keep it updated. He said “Sure.” That would be a user-friendly thing for the Health Department to do, and pretty inexpensive, too.

But for now, that’s not happening. If you hear about a spill, you can look up the legal description of it on the Health Department website, then go to Josh’s map, which you have bookmarked somewhere else on your computer, and go searching  for it. Looking at it another way, right now you can click on any dot on Josh’s website map and get a link to the Incident Report for that spill, but you can’t click on an Incident Report on the Health Department’s website and get to the map. Wouldn’t that be a nice, convenient, handy feature. At almost no cost?

The Health Department did build a map that would do that, by the way, the map that was vetoed. The Health Department may even be using it internally. But people who have seen that map and this one say this one is much better. So here’s my request to the Health Department:

Dear Health Department: Would you please call Josh Gage at 406-570-1060 and make a deal with him to link your spill site to his map to make your site easier for all of us to use? Thanks.

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A New Approach To “Special Places”

The last thing anyone expected at Wednesday’s North Dakota Industrial Commission meeting was a motion made by Wayne Stenehjem, a second by Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, and a unanimous vote of approval by the two of them and Jack Dalrymple. But that’s what happened. Nor was the motion quite what we expected, but for now, it’ll do.

The meeting was called to discuss Stenehjem’s “Special Places” proposal—his idea to draft an administrative rule developing a list of places where we need to be more careful when we site oil well facilities, and directing oil companies to work with state agencies in the siting process. It was a hastily called meeting and no one was really sure what to expect. Although we didn’t expect anything dramatic, because Agriculture commissioner Doug Goehring was in Africa and could only participate by phone.

I’ve got to say, the Attorney General made a lot of us nervous when he started the discussion, and it appeared he was backing away from his proposal. Turns out he was being a practical politician. Politics is the art of compromise, the art of the possible. Wayne’s been around the capitol since 1976, having been elected to the Legislature at the ripe old age of 23, while he was still in law school. He knows how North Dakota government works, and he knows and understands the players.

So he started out by saying there’s a difference between a formal administrative RULE and a formal agency POLICY, and that perhaps we would be better off adopting a formal policy as to how oil drilling permits would be issued. Stenehjem’s idea, reinforced by Dalrymple, would still include the adoption of a list of those what he calls “extraordinary places,” and as each drilling permit application came in, it would be the job of someone in the Department of Mineral Resources, serving as a sort of “ombudsman” to look at each one, and if one of them was in or near one of these places, it would get some extra attention from state government. The ombudsman would send the application to someone in one of our agencies who would work with the company to determine the best location of the well pad and the roads to it, and measures the company could take to mitigate any potential disturbance in the area as the result of the well. As Dalrymple pointed out at a meeting last month, that happens a lot now, but we don’t have a formal process to GUARANTEE that it happens. That’s what Stenehjem’s proposal would do.

All the time Stenehjem was explaining his idea, Dalrymple was nodding in assent. When it came time for Dalrymple to speak, Stenehjem was nodding as Dalrymple said “What you have brought to us is worthwhile.”

And Dalrymple seemed almost eager to get a motion on the table, asking Wayne to do so. Wayne did. They waited for Goehring, on the phone, to make a second. No response. “Doug, are you there?” he asked into the speakerphone of an Agriculture Commission half a planet away.  “You have to take your phone off mute.”

“I’m here,” Goehring finally replied.

“I thought maybe my voice had put you to sleep,” said Dalrymple. Somebody behind me muttered “Jack’s voice always makes me sleepy.”

“I’ll second the motion,” Goehring said from Africa. Unanimous vote. How about that?

Then details were discussed a little bit. Wayne’s staff will work out a formal document for the group to consider at a future meeting, maybe even as soon as next week, but more likely next month. We’ll see if Dalrymple and Goehring like Stenehjem’s wording. If so, game on, an ombudsman is hired (to be honest, it’s probably going to really take a small staff of 2 or 3 to get this all done in a timely manner so the oil companies don’t feel like they’re being  delayed—not that there’s anything wrong with that) and the process begins.

So, how do people who have been supportive of Stenehjem’s idea feel about this change in course? Well, I haven’t had much discussion, although I suppose I will, but I can weigh in. It’s my blog. As soon as the meeting was over, I walked over to talk to Ron Ness, head of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. “Well, does this get rid of the need for litigation?” I asked. “Well, that’s where it was headed,” he replied.  “Fire the lawyers,” I said as we parted company.

Nobody, including me, has really wanted to talk about that, but it’s been in the back of a lot of people’s minds the past month or so. There’s been the threat that once a rule was promulgated, the oil industry would file a lawsuit to block it from taking effect, and that could take months, maybe years, to settle in the courts, and the Industrial commission would go right on approving 200 or 300 drilling permits a month, with no formal process in place at all dealing with these special places. It’s already been a year since Stenehjem first broached this idea at last January’s Industrial Commission meeting, and we’ve issued a few thousand drilling permits since then with no review process in place. With a lawsuit holding up this process, we’d issue a few thousand more.

We’ve had a good sense something like that is coming because a Bismarck law firm, no doubt on behalf of a client in the oil industry, has filed an open records request asking for all of Wayne’s correspondence and e-mails regarding this special places proposal. So somebody’s getting ready to sue somebody, most likely the Industrial Commission, in an effort to stop these new rules from taking effect if the Commission were to adopt them. (Disclosure: they’re going to find an e-mail in there from me saying, in some idle chat, that I voted for Wayne, so I might as well get that out there right now so my Democrat friends aren’t surprised.)

Adopting a policy, which might have some flexibility, instead of a rule, which has the force of law, might mollify the industry enough to get them to back off and even support this idea. I hope so. Wayne’s not trying to stop anyone from drilling a well and getting their minerals. Jack is certainly not going to let him do that. He’s in too deep with the industry to let that happen. But providing a process by which the industry could use the expertise of our state agencies to help them find the best places to put their oil wells just makes so much sense that I can’t understand why anyone would be against it.

But then, I’ve been tilting at windmills all my life, some of my friends say. I’m for universal, single payer health insurance too. So what do I know?

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Two Stories: A Phony “Landowners” Group And A Chickens**t Radio Show Scheme

“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.

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K.C. Clarke: Two Years Missing

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SATURDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE

U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon announced Saturday afternoon that James Henrikson was arrested in Mandan on federal firearms charges, namely being a felon in possession of firearms. Purdon said Henrikson was arrested by agents from Homeland Security Investigations and the Bismarck-Mandan Area Narcotics Task Force. The FBI, The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office were also involved in the investigation and capture of Henrikson. We reported here earlier that Henrikson’s home near Watford City was searched earlier this week and agents found firearms there. Purdon said Henrikson was arrested without incident. In addition to the firearms charges, Henrikson is suspected of being involved in the December murder of Douglas Carlile, one of Henrikson’s business partners, although there was no mention of that in the press release by the U.S. Attorney’s office. We’ll have to wait and see if Henrikson is charged in that case. I think a lot of people can sleep better tonight.
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Here’s my report from earlier today:

Just one more update—actually more background than update—on the murder-for-hire story involving the Spokane businessman and his business partner from Watford City, and then we’ll wait until the police and FBI do their jobs, because when that happens, the media will take over here and do its job, I’m sure. Uh huh.

Right now it’s pretty much a non-story here, although I watched KFYR news at 5 last night and I’d have sworn I heard the reporter say authorities are looking for James Henrikson in connection with the case. There is much speculation that Henrikson, of Watford City, hired a fellow named Timothy Suckow out in Spokane to kill Henrikson’s business partner, Douglas Carlile. But when I went to the KFYR website this morning, that line was missing from the story, and no one else seems to be reporting it. Maybe I was just hearing things.

The story has revived hope for the family of another Washington state man who went missing almost two years ago from the North Dakota Oil Patch. Henrikson is suspected of foul play in the disappearance in February 2012 of Kristopher “K.C.” Clarke, 30 years old at the time.

“K.C.” Clarke

Clarke was an employee of Henrikson’s and sources who knew them both say there was some bad blood between them. Clarke supposedly left work one day for a two-week vacation from his job in Mandaree and disappeared.

By the end of May, no one had heard from K.C. for more than three months, and K.C.’s mother, Jill Williams, also from Washinton state, started a Facebook page to search for her son. Here’s part of what she wrote:

Nickname-K.C.
30 year old white male.
About 140-155lbs and 5’10″.
Brown hair and eyes.

            K.C. is a funny, loving, generous, hardworking and kind guy. Always there to help someone in need. He is smart and always cracking jokes and living life to the fullest. He loved photography and “tried to take a picture of and look for beautiful things every day”-a sunset, the landscape around him, flowers and animals. He is a Christian.
Missing since: Feb. 22, 2012. 

She provided a short timeline of K.C.’s travels leading up to the disappearance:

*October 2011-K.C. leaves Texas with James Henrickson-they go to North Dakota to work together for Blackstone trucking in Mandaree, ND. K.C. is made operations manager. Blackstone is run by Sarah Creveling and James Terry Henrickson on property owned by Tex Hall in Mandaree. 
*At some point K.C.’s job as operations manager is taken from him and given to someone else. K.C. is dissatisfied with Blackstone, it’s owners and his wages. He decides to leave Blackstone to go work for Running Horse trucking.
*K.C. tells several people to contact his family if anything happens to him. Carries his gun everywhere, tells a friend that he needs to practice, to get better with his gun-feels that he is in danger. I have been told that he had arguments with James H.
*Feb 22, 2012 K.C. is last seen in Mandaree, North Dakota at Blackstone trucking. We are told that he was wearing grey sweat pants and black puma athletic shoes.
* Last cell ph. call-in the vicinity of Blackstone in Mandaree, no more calls were ever made or answered by K.C. on Feb. 22, 2012 after his trip to Blackstone. Nor was he seen again. He was not seen leaving Blackstone and it is unknown whether he ever left there alive. Others have said that K.C. and James argued that day. Calls go directly to voicemail after that.
*No contact with anyone, no sightings, no bank account or cell phone activity, etc. since 2/22/2012
*End of Feb-beginning of March 2012 K.C.’s grandpa calls the Montana police to report K.C. missing-they tell grandpa that K.C. is an adult, that they can do nothing. They are not very helpful.

Sometime around June 1, 2012, police discovered Clarke’s pickup abandoned in Williston, with his belongings inside. By then, everyone suspected foul play, and that’s when the police investigation began. It is ongoing. But off the news media radar until this week.

Meanwhile, postings by Clarke’s mother and others about Henrikson and their suspicion that he was involved in Clarke’s disappearance, and a number of accusations by Clarke’s mother, led Henrikson to file a slander suit against her. That suit continues. Clarke’s mother has filed bankruptcy in the face of legal bills for attorneys to defend her.

James Henrikson

You can look at pages from the complaint filed by Henrikson and his wife, taken from the Facebook page, here, from Henrikson, and here from his wife, also a plaintiff in the slander suit.

There have been a few searches in northwest North Dakota, but no trace of Clarke has been found. In October, 2012, Clarke’s mother posted the following on Facebook:

An anonymous donor has put up a $10,000 reward! To receive the reward, you must lead us to K.C. or his body AND the person responsible for his disappearance and info to substantiate that that person is guilty. You may remain anonymous.

               Well, as most know by now, we spent last Friday-Sunday in North Dakota. We made progress and are hard at work following leads. We will find K.C.! I plead with anyone who has information-PLEASE contact me, write me an e-mail, call me, send a pm through the page, drop an anonymous note in the mail-something please, to tell us what happened to K.C. You have my solemn promise to keep you anonymous if asked to. I am not interested in revenge- I just need to know what happened and where my son is. I can understand how someone might have the answers we need, but be afraid to come forward. Please don’t be afraid, I won’t put your message here, I won’t tell anyone, including the police who you are. I will do everything in my power to protect you from harm by the person who is responsible. If you know what happened or were there, it will help you to come forward-to ease the guilt and have the opportunity to bargain with the police and have less devastating consequences should the authorities find out (not by me) who you are. And if you are the person responsible-please, just tell me what happened, please give me some peace by letting me know where my K.C. is. I understand that things happen, people get mad, things get out of control. I’m guessing that someone didn’t actually mean to kill K.C. (if he is gone), but that things got out of control and unexpectedly took a turn that no one expected.

            You have no idea the Hell I live in, the agony I am going through (unless you have been through something similar), not knowing where my boy is. You cannot imagine, what we went through in North Dakota, walking miles searching, picking up bones (wondering if they might be part of my baby), ripping out thistle bushes with my bare hands to look beneath them, as my husband and our friend, on their knees, dug with hands, machetes and a camp shovel in the dirt, desperately trying to find K.C. Picking up rocks to take home, so that I had a piece of the last town(s) where my son was. Barely sleeping or eating because we were too busy trying to find my son. I try to be strong to do what needs to be done, but when the special agent wheeled my son’s belongings into the room and put them all in a row on the table, when I had to sign for those things, when they swabbed my mouth for the DNA test- I could not hold back the tears anymore. You cannot imagine the agony of leaving the state without my baby, leaving people who have helped me and become family to me-who I have come to love. I left part of my heart in North Dakota and I hurt everyday, my spirit is tugged and tormented with the need to go back to North Dakota to find my boy and see the people who now hold a piece of my heart. I feel like I let K.C. down because I left the state without finding him. Please help me bring K.C. home before the holidays-which will be no joyous season this year without him.

Not much has transpired in the ensuing 14 months. There was another search in Northwest North Dakota last summer, but nothing turned up. Friends and supporters raised money to help pay legal bills. Clarke’s mother advertised her jewelry for sale on Facebook to get money for the lawyer. But the story has been revived now with Carlile’s murder and its ties to Henrikson.

If, and when, Henrikson is apprehended and charged in Carlile’s murder, more may emerge. It seems unlikely that Suckow will take the rap alone for the murder. Police can find no connection between Carlile and Suckow that would provide a reason for the murder. But police can connect Suckow to Henrikson through a telephone number in Suckow’s phone contacts. And police know that Henrikson spent a night at Carlile’s house last year, knew the layout of the home, and knew where the hidden spare key was. And the story from the night of the murder is that Carlile and his wife arrived home, and Suchow was already inside the house waiting for them (so he may have found the spare key), and shot Carlile.

And the events surrounding Carlile’s death in faraway eastern Washington have added more chaos to an already tumultuous Watford City crime scene. This week the police chief advised his city council he wants to resign as chief and go back on the beat because he doesn’t feel he has enough actual experience to head up the towns’ police force in the face of what is going on there, and McKenzie County hired its first-ever full time State’s Attorney to prosecute the growing number of cases facing the court system there.

Life in the Oil Patch.

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