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Doug Goehring: State must not allow public comment on private land

Doug Goehring

BISMARCK — The North Dakota Industrial Commission’s task is to regulate the drilling and producing of oil and gas in North Dakota, with the mission of preventing waste and protecting the rights of mineral owners.

To fulfill this mission, the Industrial Commission directs the Department of Mineral Resources to review permitting on all lands, as all land in the state is valuable.

The proposed Draft Permit Policy in front of the Industrial Commission has come a long way since its inception. This proposal balances land stewardship and protection with workable policy, but one major concern remains.

First, the proposed policy enhances government transparency and encourages public comment, as it should. Mineral exploration in western North Dakota has caused some individuals and groups to express concerns over how development and safety can co-exist. The Department of Mineral Resources currently evaluates permits on all lands by analyzing soil type, slope, topography, adjacent water bodies, wellhead protection areas and other environmental factors to ensure that approved drilling operations are mitigating risk and minimizing impacts.

The draft policy elaborates on this process by outlining the different considerations and stipulations the department would use to pragmatically approve permits. Access to these criteria allows concerned parties to engage the process with a better understanding and will highlight how procedures are used to carefully issue and monitor permits and protect land.

This proposal also encourages the public to comment on the 18 outlined areas of interest, or “extraordinary places.” Under this proposal, after an application to drill in a designated location is submitted, a notice including all non-confidential permit application information will be posted on the Department of Mineral Resources website.

This notice will be available to the general public and will be forwarded to listed entities affected by approved permits. These processes would allow for public input on potential impacts of the proposed site.

But in welcoming public comment, the proposed policy needs a stipulation so that precedent is not set on private lands.

Thus, second, public comment cannot be permitted on private lands.

The proposed 18 extraordinary places cover both private and public land. Not all public land in these areas is managed by the state. Therefore, extra consideration must be paid to federal public land, which has its own land managers and development review processes.

I acknowledge the importance of these locations to others and hold that all land in the state is precious; however, private landownership is a right that must not be infringed upon.

In the past two decades, agricultural land use has been restricted and limited throughout the western United States due to beliefs that practices such as grazing harm the land. But in recent years, studies have shown that grazing benefits grassland ecosystems.

Individuals must have the autonomy and ability to do what they deem appropriate use of their land. Drilling activities in North Dakota are closely watched and carefully regulated. These are not illicit activities and should not be treated as such.

Allowing public comment on private land in regard to oil permitting could set a dangerous precedent and slowly strip landowners of their rights. Although oil development is the current concern, in the future this could expand to other industries, including agriculture.

Currently, the draft policy is available on the Industrial Commission’s website and is open for comment until Feb. 25. Comments may be submitted to the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

I believe in adopting policy that upholds our state’s heritage by protecting landowner rights and preserving the land’s natural beauty.

Doug Goehring is North Dakota’s agriculture commissioner.