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By Caroline Downs
Representatives of the Northwest Landowners Association (NWLA) have found themselves in intense discussions with members of the House Natural Resources Committee and lobbyists promoting the state’s oil and gas development during the first weeks of North Dakota’s 63rd Legislative Assembly.
“There’s been a lot of debate and it’s been pretty heated,” said Troy Coons, vice-chairman of the organization. “Things have not been moving easily, but we are moving forward with positive results.”
Coons and NWLA board chairman Myron Hanson, Souris, have been working with NWLA lobbyist Derrick Braaten of Baumstark Braaten Law Partners, Bismarck, to advance the case for seven pieces of legislation introduced in the House.
All the bills proposed by NWLA deal with landowners’ rights as related to oil and gas development and production, especially with the rights of surface owners living with the impacts of wells and pipelines sited on their property.
Status of the
The seven bills had a first hearing in the Natural Resources Committee during the last week of January. Several of them were assigned to a subcommittee for further discussion that continued last week.
HB 1350, which clarified the statute of limitations for actions for injury due to oil and gas production, received a Do Pass recommendation from the committee and was passed 91-0 by the full House during the February 4th session. That bill has now been sent to the Senate for a committee hearing.
HB 1420, to create and enact a new section in Century Code related to the enforcement of laws, rules and regulations concerning the conservation of oil and gas, was heard by the full House on February 5th. The bill, which was given a Do Not Pass recommendation by the committee, failed on second reading on a vote of 14 yeas to 78 nays.
District 4 Representative Glen Froseth, Kenmare, noted most of the elements and penalties written in that proposed legislation are already covered by North Dakota Administrative Code.
The five remaining bills include:
•HB 1347, relating to the requirements for controls on gas and liquid gathering transmission lines. The bill was sponsored by Dick Anderson, Bob Hunskor, Dennis Johnson, Keith Kempenich, David Monson, Marvin Nelson and Senators John Andrist and Lonnie Laffen.
•HB 1348, relating to setbacks for oil and gas wells, most notably increasing the current setback distance from 500 feet to 1320 feet (one-quarter mile) from any permanently occupied dwellings. Sponsors for the bill were Representatives Glen Froseth, David Drovdal, Hunskor, Kempenich and Monson and Senators Andrist and Laffen.
•HB 1349, creating a new section related to reclamation and surface owner protection including details about the reclamation process. The bill was sponsored by Representatives Chuck Damschen, Hunskor, Kempenich and Monson and Senators Andrist and O’Connell.
•HB 1352, relating to mediation in disputes between mineral developers and surface owners. The legislation was sponsored by Representatives Hunskor, Drovdal, Monson and Wayne Trottier, with Senators Andrist, David Hogue, Laffen and O’Connell.
•HB 1355, relating to details about the definition of the commencement of drilling operations on an oil and gas lease. Sponsors for this bill were Representatives George Keiser, Drovdal, Hunskor and Tracy Boe and Senators Andrist and Laffen.
The sponsorships reflect bipartisan interest in the proposed legislation.
From Coons’ perspective, discussion about HB 1348 and the change in setbacks for oil and gas wells became heated during last week’s subcommittee meetings. “It seems so simple,” he said, “but when there’s money involved it’s not simple, especially when it affects a residence that’s already established.”
He mentioned resistance to the setback changes from the North Dakota Petroleum Council and the Oil and Gas Division of the state’s Department of Mineral Resources. Three families told their personal stories related to oil and gas wells near their homes in western North Dakota during testimony given in favor of the bill.
“The bill is still alive and has been pushed back to another Natural Resources Committee hearing in the House on February 14th,” Coons said. “Everything else is going forward at this time.”
He has been encouraged by interest shown in bills related to pipeline facilities and lines, including HB 1347 and the separate HB 1333, relating to locating, definitions for and mediation for pipeline facilities and reclamation of pipeline facilities. “There are no laws right now for the smaller gathering and feeder lines,” he said.
The oil and gas companies operating the lines may have records about the locations of the minor lines and any related facilities and of problems and repairs involved, Coons said, but most of the time that information is not required to be shared with townships, counties and even state agencies who may have concerns or questions.
“There has been talk of revising those two bills [HB 1333 and 1347] into one bill,” he said.
Advocating for NWLA concerns
Coons, Hanson and Braaten have spent a great deal of time so far at the 2013 session, making the case for the NWLA’s positions. “We’ve been there consistently,” said Coons. “There has been very thorough and intense testimony for both sides.”
While Braaten has been hired by the NWLA, Coons and Hanson are not paid representatives. “I’m bringing real issues to the table from our membership,” Coons said. “In one way, it feels like we’re getting kicked around. In another way, thinking back to what we started when we first began talking as landowners five years ago, working on these bills now feels pretty good.”
He expects the remaining bills to be heard by the full House within the next two weeks, with a March 1st deadline for crossover of bills between the two chambers. “If the bills move forward, we’ll have to start the fight on the Senate side,” he said.
NWLA board members
The NWLA organized two years ago with a mission to educate landowners about resource issues and to maintain a network of information among mineral owners, landowners, operators and occupants about resource development. The organization’s vision is focused on mutual respect and fair and equitable treatment for landowners from other parties with an interest in the property.
More information about the NWLA is available online at www.nwlandowners.com. The organization can be reached by email at email@example.com.
As the legislative session progresses, Coons expects to keep NWLA members updated on the progress of the proposals. He encouraged landowners with further questions to contact him at 701-482-7865 or Hanson at 701-243-6386.
Other board members who can answer questions and provide information about NWLA include Galen Peterson of Maxbass, secretary; Bob Grant of Berthold, treasurer; David King of Kenmare; Bryan Ankenbauer and David Bird, both of Bowbells; Aaron Jacobson of Noonan; Daryl and Betty Belik of Tioga; Jim Dahl and Thomas Wheeler, both of Ray; Lance Kjelshus of Souris; and Daryl Peterson of Antler.