A Democratic North Dakota legislator is fighting an uphill battle, pushing a bill (SB 2366) in the Republican-controlled legislature to reorganize the state's regulatory oversight of the oil and natural gas sectors.
Republicans are already on record as opposing the bill, and for now, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has taken no action on the measure offered by Sen. Connie Triplett.
The bill’s focus is on the Industrial Commission (IC), a tripartite made up of the governor (also a Republican), attorney general and agricultural secretary that includes the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and its oil/gas division. Joining some consumer/environmental critics, Triplett contends the IC and its DMR unit have an inherent conflict of interest with competing responsibility calling for oversight and promotion of the oil/gas industry all within one state entity.
Triplett said on Thursday that the "time has long since passed" when the commission needed to perform both roles as it has since the 1950s and the state's first real oil boom. As reported by local news media, she told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Thursday that the dual role is "unseemly" and needs to be "corrected."
Lynn Helms, DMR director and the state's chief oil/gas regulator, said the IC promotes "responsible development" of the state's oil/gas resources. In the legislative committee hearing, Helms said the North Dakota Petroleum Council (NDPC) actually promotes the industry as a whole, not the state regulatory entities.
Helms said other state departments, such as agriculture and fish/game are charged with regulating and promoting their resources. He said if lawmakers don't see a conflict for those departments, they shouldn't focus on an alleged one related to oil.
SB 2366 adds a clause, saying the commission should not "foster, encourage and promote the development, production and utilization of natural resources of oil and gas in this state." And it specifically states that it should regulate those same oil/gas activities.
Triplett's bill would transfer responsibility for promoting the industry to the state Department of Commerce.