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Published April 28, 2014, 11:09 AM

Who's who in administrative agencies?

As the political parties gear up for the elections this fall, I thought it would be helpful to offer a brief review of a few agencies that regulate energy development, and often make decisions that affect landowners.

By: Derrick Braaten, Agweek

As the political parties gear up for the elections this fall, I thought it would be helpful to offer a brief review of a few agencies that regulate energy development, and often make decisions that affect landowners. In North Dakota, several regulators are elected to their offices, so landowners should keep this in mind when going to the polls.

For example, North Dakotans often read quotes from Lynn Helms in the paper, and most landowners know Helms is the director of the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Department of Mineral Resources, Oil and Gas Division. This is the agency most often simply referred to as Oil and Gas.

Landowners should remember, however, that Oil and Gas is a division of the Industrial Commission. The governor, the attorney general and the agriculture commissioner, all elected officials, are the three members of the Industrial Commission, and they have the ultimate decision-making power on oil and gas regulation in North Dakota. The Oil and Gas Division is responsible for regulating oil and gas development, issuing drilling permits, authorizing spacing units, forced pooling and unitization, and for requiring proper clean up and reclamation of abandoned wells and spills of oil and saltwater. In Montana, the Oil and Gas Board regulates oil and gas development. In South Dakota, it is called the Board of Minerals and Environment.

The North Dakota Department of Health is responsible for regulation of air quality and spills into navigable waterways. The director is appointed by the governor. The Department of Health often works in conjunction with the Oil and Gas Division when there are larger spills into North Dakota waterways. Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana have similar agencies, although in Minnesota, it is the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that handle more of the environmental regulations. The Department of Health in North Dakota is also responsible for permitting oilfield waste disposal facilities.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission also regulates various aspects of the energy development industry in North Dakota, such as wind energy, coal mining, transmission lines and interstate oil pipelines. Both Minnesota and South Dakota have a Public Utilities Commission, which plays a similar role in those states. South Dakota, like North Dakota, elects its commissioners. In Minnesota, the commissioners are appointed by the governor.

Power transmission lines proposed in both Minnesota and North Dakota right now are facing some opposition from local landowners. It is important for landowners to be aware that they have the right to be involved in the proceedings in front of these agencies. In North Dakota, for example, the Public Service Commission is responsible for issuing a Certificate of Corridor Compatibility and Route Permit, which determines where the transmission lines will be located. Landowners are allowed to participate in these proceedings, and such participation can have concrete impacts on the outcome and ultimate siting for such a project. The Public Service Commission had similar authority and issued regulatory approval for the Sandpiper pipeline project proposed by Enbridge. There is still an open comment period in front of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission related to the Sandpiper route permit.

State regulatory agencies play a pivotal role in regulating energy development. I have met few landowners who are opposed to energy development, but I agree with the landowners I meet who demand energy development be done responsibly. Agriculture remains the backbone of our sustainable economy in North Dakota. Farmers, ranchers and other landowners should educate themselves on the officials that run our state agencies.

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