State oil regulator’s promotional role questioned – Bismarck Tribune

[colored_box color=green]Lynn Helms, the director of the Department of Mineral Resources, right, speaks Thursday with Sen. Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks, left, and Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, after a committee hearing dealing with pipelines in the state Capitol.[/colored_box]

State oil regulator’s promotional role questioned

Whether or not the state should break with decades of tradition and separate the top oil and gas industry regulator’s promotional role drew lengthy debate Thursday before a Senate committee.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee took testimony from industry leaders, the state’s top industry regulator and opponents of the dual role in a hearing on Senate Bill 2366, which would strip the promotional side of the Department of Mineral Resources director’s role from the regulatory side. The promotional side would be moved to the Department of Commerce.

Opponents of SB2366 from industry and Department of Mineral Resources director Lynn Helms said the bill would impair efforts at moving the industry forward and properly overseeing its activity.

Prime SB2366 sponsor Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, said the two roles are incompatible. She said passage of the bill would make a clear legislative statement that the North Dakota Industrial Commission and the department of mineral resources should focus solely on regulation.

Triplett said the commerce department already does individual programs promoting the oil and gas industry, including a value-added study approved last session. She said the Empower North Dakota Commission is also under commerce’ jurisdiction.

“This bill is not directed at the incumbent members of the North Dakota Industrial Commission or its current director of mineral resources,” said Triplett, proclaiming it is time to split the dual role, which has been in statute since 1953.

Allowing even the perception of a conflict of interest in the eyes of the public “is an indictment of us as lawmakers,” she said.

Helms said the department is charged with promoting responsible development and nowhere in statute is there language directing the department or NDIC to promote industry.

“Promoting the oil and gas industry is the job of the North Dakota Petroleum Council,” Helms said.

Sierra Club of North Dakota spokesman Wayde Schafer urged a do-pass on SB2366 and said the dual role “just doesn’t feel right.”

He said the dual role is the equivalent of two jobs. Schafer said to consider having other professions having two roles in one job.

“We would not expect a police officer to also be a social worker,” Schafer said.

(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)

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