On The Record: Governor Candidates Talk Balancing Oil Field Regulation

On the Record is a weekly column where you get a chance to get to know our Governor candidates. Three candidates are vying for the Republican nomination. One candidate is in the race for the Democrats. This week’s question is on striking a balance between oil field regulation, economic development, human, and environmental interests.

Each Thursday we’ll ask a question of our Governor candidates, the following Thursday we’ll publish their answer and ask a new question. Candidates are free to provide a written answer, a Youtube video, or a Soundcloud audio clip.

This week’s question:

When it comes to the oil field, the balance between regulatory policy, development, human, and environmental interests is a delicate one. Have we achieved the proper balance, or are there changes or tweaks we should make to the way we regulate and incentivize the industry that would produce better or needed outcomes for North Dakota? If so, please talk specifically about changes and/or needed outcomes.

Next week’s question:

10 years from now, after two terms with you as Governor, what will K-12 education look like in North Dakota?

Past questions:

On the Record is a weekly series that allows you to get to know our Governor candidates side-by-side, on a single issue, in their own words. Navigate the tabs and answers by clicking or touching each candidate’s name.

Mr. Rick Becker on balancing regulations in the oil industry with other interests…

We are near a good balance. Regulations exist that make it difficult to comply with efforts to reduce flaring. There are areas where we can actually further the balance by reducing regulations and bureaucracy. One area that North Dakotans have concern about is the aspect of reducing penalties on companies that have had issues by as much as 90%. Although reductions of fines may be a good idea in some cases, going to 90% gets to a point of losing the incentive to be good stewards. If companies can routinely expect to get a 90% cut in fines, one could ask, why bother having the fines at all.

— Rick Becker


Rick Becker for Governor

On every issue affecting North Dakota, Rick has a solution that gives people the greatest degree of choice and liberty, keeps money in the taxpayers pockets and is best for North Dakota families.


Mr. Doug Burgum on balancing regulations in the oil industry with other interests…

Mr. Burgum did not submit an answer to this week’s question.


Doug Burgum for North Dakota

With your help, we can continue to diversify our state’s economy, create long lasting jobs, and generate opportunities for our citizens to flourish and succeed in North Dakota.

Mr. Marvin Nelson on balancing regulations in the oil industry with other interests…

One problem is the web of agencies involved in regulating the industry. Sometimes companies just plain are unaware that they need to do something like get a particular permit. I’ve thought of consolidating but there are reasons the agencies were chosen. The simplest, and I have no idea why it hasn’t been done, is to simply produce a publication that is a guide to the oil and gas regulations of North Dakota, this could help companies and the public negotiate the regulatory maze efficiently and would involve minimal cost. Education often greatly increases compliance with laws and regulations, while lack of knowledge is no defense, the best offense is one that never occurred and education is a way to increase compliance.

This is one small example of things that could be done better, but there is one huge thing that must be changed or all other changes are for nothing, that is something called regulatory capture.

Regulatory capture is what happens when an industry that is supposed to be regulated by an impartial governmental body is able to exert so much influence over the body that the regulator becomes the captive of the industry. When this happens the regulator, instead of giving appropriate consideration of the interests of all stakeholders, the regulator becomes an extension of the industry it is supposed to impartially regulate. North Dakota actually goes so far as to write regulatory capture into the law with the Oil and Gas Division of the Industrial Commission being not only responsible to regulate the oil and gas industry, but also to promote the industry.

One can argue with just how much the regulators are captured but there is no question that in the minds of landowners and the public the regulators are an extension of the industry. You see landowner groups being created to protect the landowner’s by banding together, you hear how it’s almost impossible to get pipelines into the ground, and just ask people what they think of potential fines routinely being reduced 90%. Clearly, the public believes the foxes are guarding the henhouse.

What needs to be done is to first remove promotion of the industry from the duties of regulators. Then there needs to be clear ethical guidelines for employees. Who knows how many gifts or trips or whatever are given to the regulators by the industry? No one. There are not even reporting requirements for an employee who receives a gift. There needs to be clear ethical guidelines, public reporting, and indeed a regulator of the regulators, an ethics commission. If the public can have no confidence in the ethics of its government there can be no confidence in any matter.

Executive branch agencies must have clear ethical guidelines for all employees and there needs to be oversight by a separate commission. This is a fundamental first step, no law or regulation makes any difference if the public cannot trust it to be enforced impartially.

— Marvin Nelson

Marvin Nelson for North Dakota

Marvin Nelson for North Dakota

Our campaign will support working families, build strong and safe communities, and ensure every North Dakotan’s voice is heard by fighting against discrimination of any form.


Mr. Wayne Stenehjem on balancing regulations in the oil industry with other interests…

Mr. Stenehjem did not submit an answer to this week’s question.


Stenehjem for Governor

I’ll use the experience I gained in my years in the legislature to continue to work hard for ND as your governor.

Josh Wolsky

Editor and Publisher of TheMinotVoice, Developer of the #ForMinot Network,  Co-Host of #GoodTalk Minot, Advocate and Friend of the Souris River, Former City Alderman, and clearly -- all things #MakeMinot. Go ahead, don't wait for permission!

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