Senators promote North Dakota’s regulatory role during Jewell visit

North Dakota’s two US senators—John Hoeven (R) and Heidi Heitkamp (D)—welcomed US Sec. of the Interior Sally Jewell to the state for a 2-day visit on Aug. 6. They used the occasion to show her how the state is aggressively developing energy resources in it with its own comprehensive regulatory approach.

“North Dakota’s ‘states-first’ approach to energy development under Empower North Dakota has made us the fastest growing state in America,” Hoeven said following the first day of activities during the visit.

“Under the oversight and guidance of competent and experienced state authorities, an all of-the-above strategy to develop both our traditional and renewable resources has helped to produce the lowest unemployment rate and the fastest growing income in the nation,” he said.

The state is at the forefront of developing its vast energy resources, Heitkamp added. “We are pursuing advancements in everything from oil, gas, and coal to wind and biofuels. When we say all-of-the-above, we mean it,” she maintained.

“This is an important opportunity to have Sec. Jewell visit our state and learn more about North Dakota’s strategic approach to energy development and the critical role we play in helping the nation continue moving forward to energy independence,” said Lt. Gov. Drew H. Wrigley (R), who accompanied Jewell and the senators on Aug. 6.

Cites technology

Jewell said the Bakken boom shows how new and improved technology is letting the oil and gas industry tap previously inaccessible resources. “As drilling methods and technologies advance, we have an obligation to ensure that energy production is happening in a safe and responsible way for the environment and for communities," she added.

The group’s Aug. 6 itinerary began with a tour of a rig operated by Continental Resources Inc., followed in the afternoon by a tour of facilities operated by Statoil, which has invested more than $4 billion in the Bakken and Three Forks plays.

At Statoil, the group was briefed on the Norwegian company’s natural gas liquids extraction process and its proposed compressed natural gas and gas lift projects. They also visited Statoil’s Pyramid production site, within Williston’s city limits, where the company has extensively landscaped the site to improve the visual impression.

Jewell also inspected new technologies some companies in the region are using to capture and reduce natural gas and methane emissions. US President Barack Obama’s climate action plan calls for the administration to work collaboratively with state governments and the private sector to reduce emissions across multiple sectors, improve air quality, and achieve public health and economic benefits, she noted.

The senators told Jewell that the Obama administration needs to help expedite leasing and issuing of permits for oil and gas development on public lands and the Native American reservation. Earlier this year, Hoeven introduced, and Heitkamp cosponsored, the Bureau of Land Management Streamlining Act in the Senate to help improve the oil and gas permitting process on federal lands in western North Dakota.

Hoeven and Heitkamp said the legislation, which was sponsored in the House by Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), has now passed both chambers and will go to conference for reconciliation. The senators cited this bill as a good example of how to make permitting more efficient, effective and timely.

Meets interagency group

Jewell met Aug. 7 with the Bakken Federal Executive Working Group, which represents a dozen federal bureaus responsible for federal permitting reviews in the Bakken. The group was identified by Obama as one of five priority regional initiatives under an executive order aimed at improving permitting and reviews of infrastructure projects.

The US Bureau of Land Management has seen a 500% increase in Bakken area federal drilling applications in the last 5 years—with more than half of the applications for Indian trust lands, according to Neil Kornze, the agency’s principal deputy director. “With budget constraints, sequestration, and mixed ownership jurisdictions, we need to combine our efforts and start thinking of natural resource management on a landscape scale,” he said.

“The federal and state activities going on here in the Bakken formation are a perfect example of how natural resource management has shifted from individual agencies to a team effort,” Kornze continued. “Working closely with our state, tribal and industry partners here in North Dakota, the BLM is committed to the type of close coordination and collaboration that is necessary to continue to expand safe and responsible development of domestic energy.”

He said several strategies have been employed to meet the increased demands on BLM’s North Dakota Field Office, where a focus team was established to assess the field office’s needs and make recommendations to the state leadership team.

The field office also implemented a pilot program for electronic submission of drilling permit applications, and began encouraging all operators to submit such applications electronically last spring. Kornze said this not only increases timely submissions, but also enables timely revisions and reviews and allow operators to track the status of their applications.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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