Regulators were greeted Monday with sharp opposition from the public to a proposed change that would restrict who can speak during oil and gas permitting cases.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park Superintendent Wendy Ross said a definition change would diminish the ability to provide information to lawmakers on park impacts.
“Although the National Park Service does not have direct management over the lands leased and developed for oil and gas activities, it does have an interest in preserving the visitor’s experience, viewshed, dark sky resource, air quality and soundscape,” Ross said. “Discussions about proactive impact mitigation in the commission sessions allows park managers to preserve park resources for future generations.”
Officials with the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Department of Mineral Resources took testimony for nearly 90 minutes Monday at its Bismarck department office, the first of four meetings scheduled for this week across the state. More than 40 people were in attendance.
The new definition for interested party, if approved, would be “an individual or number of individuals that have a property ownership or management interest in or adjacent to the subject matter.”
Several other proposed changes are open to public comment during the meetings, with a 5 p.m. April 25 deadline for written comments. These include beefed up requirements for underground pipelines and saltwater handling facilities.
Opponents of the proposed definition said reducing public input on energy development from interested stakeholders and groups impairs the ability to alert the state and companies to concerns as well as the ability to mitigate them.
“We have on-the-ground expertise; we know these places as part of a larger landscape,” said Jan Swenson, executive director of the Badlands Conservation Alliance.
The proposed definition change came from concerns by legal staff over testimony during permitting cases, which are legal proceedings, according to Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resouces, adding that the definition isn’t meant to impact public input in regards to rule changes governing flaring and oil conditioning.
“They should be a wide-open process,” Helms said.
Lawmakers took aim at the proposed definition by saying reducing public input isn’t in anyone’s interest.
“My job as a public servant isn’t to make my job easier for me,” Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, said.
Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, agreed.
“I think you are on the wrong track here,” said Triplett, pointing out that officials overseeing a hearing can gavel one down at any time if someone is not adding anything substantive to the proceedings or tries to send hearings off the rails.
Additional public hearings are set for Tuesday in Dickinson, Wednesday in Williston and Thursday in Minot.
Helms said the NDIC will likely rule on the proposed changes at its June or July meeting.