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MDU Welcoming Corrupt ALEC Organization To Bismarck
Written by Chet   

TribThe corrupt ALEC organization is coming to North Dakota next week. And your public utility company is paying for it with money you are required to pay to the MDU monopoly if you want electricty. (Unless you're served by a cooperative or are in the eastern part of the state.) A lot of people don't know what "ALEC" is, so I'm going to tell you. I've written about ALEC a few times before, but I'll do it again.  ALEC is a corrupt organization that lobbies legislators in North Dakota and other states on behalf of polluters, oil companies (but I repeat myself), private for-profit prisons, big banks, bad insurance companies and big pharma.  If you see a proposed law that will take accountability away for polluters, oil companies, private prisons, big banks, bad insurance companies or negligent pharmaceutical companies, you can bet the legislation is the handiwork of some ALEC minion.  

Back during the 2009 North Dakota legislative session, ALEC sent two of its operatives into North Dakota to lobby to protect one specific asbestos company from liability when that company's product hurt or killed someone.  After I busted them for lobbying illegally (without registering), those two lobbyists promptly filed the proper paperwork with the North Dakota Secretary of State's office.  (You can read all about that by clicking here.)  Of course, neither the Secretary of State nor the Attorney General nor any State's Attorney ever prosecuted those lobbyists for illegally lobbying. They are not in the business of enforcing the laws against their corporate masters and owners.  

Then, in July of 2010, when its operatives filed its IRS form 990 (non-profit tax return), ALEC lied on its 2009 tax return. Non-profits are required -- under federal tax law -- to disclose whether they "engage in lobbying activities" on their tax return. When ALEC filled out its 2009 return, they lied to the IRS and said they had not engaged in lobbying activities in 2009, despite the irrefutable fact that two of its operatives registered as lobbyists in North Dakota, and they lobbied here, during the 2009 legislative session.  They checked the box that says "No" in response to the question "Did the organization engage in lobbying activities?"  (See my blog post about this, with a copy of their Form 990, here.)  This was a big enough deal, nationally, so that it raised the attention of a top IRS administrator -- Marcus Owens, "who for a decade directed the [IRS] division responsible for approving organizations' charity status."  (RollCall.com)  Here's what RollCall.com wrote about it after one group filed an IRS complaint about it at the time:

The complaint, filed on behalf of Clergy Voice, a group of Christian clergy in Ohio, notes that ALEC denied engaging in lobbying activity in its federal tax filings covering the years 2008 and 2009. At the same time, two of its lawyers were registered to lobby in at least one state, North Dakota. False reporting on these forms has been found to be a criminal offense considered perjury in at least four recent cases, Owens said.

RollCall.com (emphasis added) (go read the whole story)

Let's be clear about something: You've never read, heard or seen anything about any of this in any North Dakota mainstream media outlet. That's because they are all bought-and-paid-for by ALEC and its owners.

So yesterday's Bismarck Teabune had a nice little story in it by one of its cub half-journalists, Nick Smith; someone who obviously knows nothing about ALEC, or doesn't care about publishing the whole story. His fluff piece reads like something from any small town social register. "Mary Lou Hindsworth hosting a ladies tea party next Friday."  Here's part of his unhelpful, half-story drivel.

A social event will be held next week in Bismarck for lawmakers to meet and raise money for a legislative organization that pushes for free-market legislation.

MDU Resources will be hosting a beer and wine tasting for lawmakers Wednesday at its corporate campus in Bismarck. The event is to promote and raise money for the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC is a corporate-funded organization that works with conservative legislators as well as businesses and foundations to create models for state legislatures to pass.

The group on its website lists its main legislative principles as free-market enterprise, limited government and federalism. Policies the group has pushed in several states in the past include reducing corporate taxation and regulations, promoting gun rights and minimizing environmental regulations.

Bismarck Teabune

This award-winning, passes-for-journalism-in-North-Dakota mush reminds me of something in the Farewell Column written by past-editor Lee Morris of the Valley City Times Record back in 2011.  Remember that?  Morris snuck his good-bye column into the newspaper by putting a fake title and author at the top, but then wrote an honest piece about how his corporate masters were demanding that the paper produce "more coverage on events such as Chamber of Commerce luncheons and ribbon-cutting ceremonies" (more here) and that he couldn't continue to pretend he was producing real journalism under those circumstances. Then Morris promptly resigned. Today we get to watch the Bismarck Tribune's "reporters" write about social events hosted by MDU that pretend to be "fundraisers" for ALEC. 

So what's the truth?  The truth is that ALEC is -- and should be -- scared to death to come back into North Dakota to do more lobbying, like it always does, because it accidentally admitted it was lobbying in 2009. The truth is ALEC lied on its 2009 tax return.  The truth is they haven't been prosecuted -- to my knowledge -- and that's probably because the IRS and/or the Justice Department is afraid of being accused of engaging in politics. Legislators won't be paying $250 to attend this fundraiser.  They just won't. The truth is the corrupt ALEC organization is trying to recover from its "rough spot" in North Dakota. The truth is that we're not getting the news from our "newspapers."  And we should all be upset by this.

But we're not. 

We're too busy listening to knuckleheads on the radio complaining about how the Democrats think even poor people should have access to health care. We're too busy focusing on hater(s) in Leith. We're all mad that the federal government's website isn't able to enroll in private health insurance the people Republicans don't want enrolling anyway.

Benghazi!

Maybe we don't deserve anything better than the nonsense we get from the Bismarck Tribune.  Maybe Nick Smith is serving us the crap sandwich we deserve.

Someone on DailyKos suggests North Dakotans ought to organize a protest.  What are you going to do about it?

(For more on ALEC, read this report from the American Association for Justice. NorthDecoder is cited in several endnotes (e.g. 1, 36, 37, 47). That's because we sniffed out (some of) ALEC's corruption in North Dakota and broke the illegal-lobbying story.)

 
#BreakingNews
Written by Chet   
NotNewsCraig Cobb woke this morning to find lawn 12" longer than neighbor's. Lauren Donovan en route 2 Leith w/ 2 notepads, extra pens, GPS & flashlight. 2nd Idiot Summit Postponed. #BisTrib #NotRealJournalism
 
President Obama Is Invited To North Dakota
Written by Chet   

Join Our BlowoutNorth Dakota's Tea Party, anti-Farm Bill, anti-Social Security, pro-shutdown Congressman Kevin Cramer issued a press release this morning, to let all of us know he has invited President Obama to visit North Dakota.  I've decided to do the same, only I'm going to try to be a little more honest about all of it.  Here goes...

Dear Mr. President,

There is a place in America where Republicans' vision of a corporatist/fascist paradise is a reality. Plus, we're almost done eliminating the pesky wildlife.

It is a place where a new groundbreaking takes place nearly every day, much of it in formerly pristine habitat, and where the signs at all the minimum-wage burger joints say “now hiring” instead of “going out of business”. As has always been true here, anybody can come to North Dakota, get three part-time jobs at poverty wages, struggle to find afforable housing, and still qualify for food stamps!

It is a place where oligarchs in the energy, agriculture, technology, and manufacturing industries thrive, providing a few executive level positions for people in Oklahoma and Texas, many medium to high-wage jobs for people who need that money so they can give most of it back to their employer/landlords as rent, and countless starvation-wage jobs for our citizens and those we welcome from around the world. 

This used to be North Dakota, and I invite you to see it for yourself while the air is still just-barely safe enough to breathe.

You campaigned here before you became President and before Republicans sold the state to a billionaire oil baron, and a lot has gotten worse. While you've been successfully repairing all the damage done by Republican "tinkle down" economics, North Dakota Republicans have been literally burning off our rich natural resources in exchange for a few gold coins and a long, state-wide future as America's Mordor-like cancer cluster theme park. While progressives claw and scratch to get the media to fairly cover the countless stories about it, North Dakota has nearly tripled the amount of natural gas we flare, producing emissions equivalent to more than two medium-sized coal-fired power plants and looking like a huge metropolitan city (from space). We also proudly call ourselves a conservative "red state" while simultaneously bragging of socialized enterprises including a State Bank and a State Mill and Elevator, as well as a little-known illegal socialized public-records-selling service. Meanwhile, housing is getting so unaffordable in parts of the state, that some governmental entities are resorting to operating socialized housing for public employees because it's becoming unaffordable for the people they hire, for example, to afford to live in anything but government-owned FEMA trailers.

Mr. President, you have seen the headlines about the rapidly escallating crime rate in North Dakota, and I know your advisors have briefed you on human trafficking of, by and to our citizens. Several of your cabinet officials have traveled here, and we are grateful for their visits though they inconveniently force our oil company overlords and state officials to cover-up huge oil field blowouts near our one national park while your cabinet officials are in the area

But I believe the significance of the North Dakota story requires a visit from the President himself before this great state becomes uninhabitable. And what better way to assure a nation your first priority is job creation than to visit the state creating a cancer-cluster, crime-riddled, wildlife-free, corporatists' paradise faster than anywhere else?

I want to show you production that exchanges our safe, rich, habitable state for relatively short-lived temporary American energy security.

I want to show you our endangered agriculture industry and introduce you to the farmers and ranchers feeding (oil-soaked?) Monsanto-patented GMO crops to a hungry, unsuspecting world.

I want to introduce you to our debt-burdened college students confident there might be a job for them after graduation, if the air quality doesn't continue its death spiral and crime doesn't scare them away.

I want to show you our coal operations in some of the nation’s most rapidly declining air quality, and see if you can tell the difference between untouched acres and the Custer Mine State Game Management Area east of Garrison, along Highway 83, or the well-pad and well-access-road beleaguered area along Lake Sakakawea straight north of Keene, North Dakota.  Or any olympic-pool-sized toxic fracking waste pit.

And nearly everyone you meet along the way will have an Albuteral inhaler and a "The Koch Brothers for President" bumper sticker.

I and my staff -- well, I, anyway -- stand ready to work with your team on every logistic, and a travel schedule which maximizes your time.

Please visit North Dakota to see what Mordor looked like before it looked like Mordor. The flap on our hasmat tent is open and waiting.

For now.

Chad

editor

@northdecoder.com

Which letter is more honest?  Mine? Or Tea Partier Kevin Cramer's?

 
Dear EcoNews: Bullshit Headlines Don't Help
Written by Chet   

An "EcoNews" headline jumped out at me this morning.  The headline read "Internal Documents Reveal Coverup in North Dakota Oil Spill."  

"Wow," I thought to myself. "I've seen some internal documents, and they don't 'reveal' the coverup I personally believe went on after the recent massive oil spill near Tioga, North Dakota."  

So I read the story.  You should too.  Here's an excerpt (and a link to the whole thing, if you want to read it.)

Possibly Knew Their Pipeline was Dangerously Weak

Tesoro ran tests on the pipeline that ruptured more than two weeks before the spill was discovered.

A robot, known as a “smart pig,” detected weaknesses in the pipeline on Sept.10 and 11. Tesoro claims that they did not have ample time to digest the data before the spill, but Tesoro employees on the ground tell a different story. Furthermore, once the pipeline spill was discovered, Tesoro dispatched crews to check two other sites on the pipeline for leaks, indicating they were aware of potential fail points in the pipeline.

EcoWatch.com

And that's probably the most damning "reveal" in the whole EcoWatch story.  There's other stuff, sure, but nothing that really "reveals" a cover-up.  And it's kind of not even accurate. The internal documents show Tesoro had done some testing in the general area where the spill occured, but those records don't conclusively show that Tesoro had specifically tested the pipe at the location of the Tioga spill. It's just not clear. So it doesn't "reveal" a "coverup" or anything else, really.

Don't get me wrong here, either; I totally believe there was a cover up. Yeah, I wrote that: I believe North Dakota government officials participated in a cover-up of the Tioga oil spill.  The problem is that every one of the workers at the State Health Department probably has three standing job offers to go to work for some corrupt oil field service company right now, and those job offers would dry up in a heart beat if they told the truth in an email they KNOW can be obtained through a simple open records request from any schlep at Greenpeace or the New York Times. Or me. This is one more reason why we need an ethics commission in North Dakota. 

But EcoNews does noone any good with the headline that says something that -- while likely true -- they can't even prove in their own story.

NorthDecoder is here to provide a service.  The EcoWatch story links -- in a couple places -- to some of the "internal documents" that "reveal" a coverup in North Dakota.  By coincidence, I suppose, I requested all the same documents Greenpeace requested. And I'm not going to selectively give them to you, redacted, like Greenpeace and EcoWatch did. I'm just going to give you the whole banana.  This all comes from a public records request made to the ND Department of Health. It's all public record. I'm redacting nothing because any citizen could get all this same information if they just sent a request for it.

North Dakota Department of Health Public Records relating to Tioga Oil Spill

 
A North Dakota Obamacare Technology Comparison
Written by Chet   

WSICompsRepublicans are outraged -- OUTRAGED!!!, I say -- about the fact that uninsured people are having trouble with getting enrolled to buy insurance on the healthcare exchange Republicans despise so much. (Good God, I hope the irony in that last sentence isn't lost on people.)  They're mad that the incredibly complex, 36-state insurance exchange system -- with income and identity verification systems built into it -- isn't working perfectly, while being overloaded with uninsured applicants trying to use the systems. Republicans are calling for the firing of administrators responsible for overseeing the contracts with vendors hired to set up the complex IT system.

So this big dust-up about the problems with the technology behind the ACA implementation got me thinking about stuff in North Dakota. What about North Dakota Republicans? Are they outraged? Do they get outraged when IT projects don't go exactly as planned? Do we have anything comparable -- on a North Dakota scale -- here in North Dakota?

And, yeah, we do. 

Remember how North Dakota's Workforce Safety & Insurance (WSI) is years behind on a big IT upgrade?  WSI hired a company called "Aon" to overhaul its computer system back in 2007. The project had a scheduled, original completion date of December 31, 2009, and a budget of $14 million. Here's a snippet from a Bismarck Teabune story from January of this year...

The company had been under contract with WSI since 2007 to overhaul its computer system. The project had an original completion date of Dec. 31, 2009, and its total budget was $17.8 million, up from $14 million when work began.

“To date, WSI has spent about $17 million in total project costs. I’m very, very disappointed with that number,” [WSI CEO Brian] Klipfel said.

Bismarck Tribune

So the project is now four years behind schedule and 27% over budget.  And WSI's CEO is just "disappointed"? 

Remember all the Republicans calling for Klipfel's head?  Remember the NDGOP's top officials calling for Klipfel to "resign or befired"!?!  No? Didn't think so. That's because it never happened.

Dude is lucky he's not fired. He's lucky he's not been identified as a Democrat. RNC Chariman RNC PR BS is demanding Kathleen Sebelius resign or be fired as HHS director because of the problems with the Affordable Care Act website. So is Mittens Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan. So are various other Republican chowderheads. That's because moran Republicans think technology is easy and accountability is necessary for Democrats only.

(Speaking of accountability, have you heard anything about congressional hearings on America getting lied into a war in Iraq? No? Me either.)

And the WSI computer system overhaul isn't the only North Dakota state government computer overhaul where rabid, partisan asshats could point the finger and say some department head ought to be fired or resign. 

Yeah, it's too bad the ACA roll-out didn't go perfectly. Yeah, lots of things need work. But that doesn't mean Sebelius (or Klipfel or other North Dakota agency heads who've overseen huge, failed IT projects) should be fired. They just need to do their jobs. And the obstructionists certainly aren't offering any help. No, hater's gonna hate; obstructionist is gonna obstruct. Maybe it'd be easier for Sebelius to do her job if she didn't have mutton-heads demanding she -- and other people who have better things to do -- waste time being interrogated by them in some congressional committee.

Just a thought.

 
Black Oil; Texas Tea
Written by Jim Fuglie   

(Cross-posted, with permission, from "The Prairie Blog")

Come and listen to a story about a man named Jed
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed,
Then one day he was shootin at some food,
And up through the ground came a bubblin’ crude.

The Ballad of Jed Clampett

Well, it would be fun to think that was what happened up in Williams County to cause what is now described as the largest ever land-based oil spill in America. But Jed Clampett didn’t shoot a hole in Tesoro Petroleum’s pipeline, unleashing 865,000 gallons of crude oil, I don’t think.

So how did all that oil get out of the pipeline, and into the air, and on and under the ground, in such a short period of time? That’s a question that’s going to be answered eventually, I hope, because we need to know that answer to try to figure out how never to let it happen again.

As I said the other day, I’m an English major, so I just love to do simple math problems, as a sense of accomplishment, if for nothing else. All the newspaper stories I’ve seen say the oil came from a quarter-inch hole in an underground pipeline. So I asked a friend the other day “How long does it take for 865,000 gallons of oil to get through a quarter-inch hole in a pipeline?” In fact, I asked several friends. The common response was, “I suppose it depends on how much pressure there was in the pipe.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “but it was a hole the size of a pencil. How much will actually fit through a hole that size at one time, even with a lot of pressure? Besides, the pipe was underground, so it had to push away some dirt to get out of the hole.”

Okay, let’s do some math. I took my garden hose—five-eighths of an inch across, more than twice the size of that quarter-inch hole in the pipeline—and filled a five-gallon pail. Took a couple of minutes. But let’s assume there was more pressure in that pipe than in my garden hose. A lot more. Let’s say, because of pressure behind it, it could spurt five gallons of that thick, bubbly crude a minute out of that ¼ inch hole, about twice as much as my 5/8 inch hose. At that rate, it would take 173,000 minutes to emit 865,000 gallons. That’s 2,883 hours and 20 minutes. Or about 120 days, about 4 months.

Okay, okay, if it had been leaking that long, surely someone—Tesoro, or the farmer who owned the land and had planted a crop there last spring—would have noticed it. Besides, the wheat grew, matured, ripened and was combined, and it wouldn’t have done that in a pool of oil.

So let’s say it leaked twice that much—ten gallons a minute. At ten gallons a minute, it’s really shooting out of that quarter-inch hole. For 60 days. Two months. Still not reasonable? Okay, let’s say 20 gallons a minute. Now we’re talking a geyser the likes of which we haven’t seen since the movie “Giant.” I mean, to get 20 gallons of thick gooey oil out of a quarter-inch hole in a pipe in one minute, now that would be something to see. At that rate, it would have been gushing for 30 days, according to my math.

But wait. Tesoro said they ran a “smart pig” though the line during an inspection just a couple weeks before the spill was reported on Sept. 29. Inspected the pipe September 10-11, they said. Holy cow! If the pipeline started leaking the day after that test, it had to have been gushing about 40 gallons a minute. I’m trying to picture 40 gallons of oil coming out of a ¼ inch hole in a minute. An underground pipeline. I can’t see it in my mind’s eye.

I’m sorry, folks, but something is just not adding up here. Somebody is not telling the truth here. It is time to find out. Because there are hundreds, maybe thousands of miles of underground pipe in North Dakota. It is time for our state officials to get to the bottom of this. There has to be a record of how much oil went into that pipe every day. There has to be a record of how much oil came out the other end every day. So we’re going to know for sure someday how much leaked. Then we need to know exactly how much oil can come through a pencil-sized hole at certain amounts of pressure. I wish I knew that. Because then maybe I wouldn’t be so suspicious that the hole in the pipe was waaaaaay bigger than we’ve been led to believe. Or that it had been leaking a looooong time, undetected by an irresponsible company.

P.S. My friend Jeff sent me this story today, showing how really bad things can be, but also how quickly some pipeline companies can react to a spill. Looks like we got “lucky” that we were only dealing with a quarter inch hole. Or so.

 
Bismarck Tribune Editor Admits To Censorship At Paper
Written by Chet   

TribRemember when the Bismarck Tribune's most-recent editor resigned from his job at the Tribune and wrote a fairly vicious attack on a certain blogger -- yours truly -- suggesting the blogger had engaged in "personal character assassination attempts" against him because the blogger suggested his musings at the Tribune were biased?

Yeah, probably not. You probably don't remember. So I'll give it to you again.  It's still online. Here's an excerpt (and I'll put a link to the whole thing after the excerpt):

A Bismarck blogger asked, after the announcement of my retirement, if I would talk with him, on the record. He said he was working on a story about the rumors of why so many people were leaving the Tribune. His request seemed to drip conspiracy theory and nefarious deeds. While any such theory is incorrect, his request came days after writing this:

"If John Irby at the Bismarck Teabune or Jack Zaleski at the Fargo For'em had any integrity at all - any - they'd tell the truth about their newspapers and the slanted ‘news' they publish, and then resign (or be fired) too."

Those might have been some of the kindest words he's ever written about me or my employer.

Here's a funny question about that blogger - do you think he believes he has no agenda or political bias? Can he seriously think he has been objective and factual in his posts?

His slant is, in fact, excessive.

I responded to his inquiry by suggesting I might talk with him after my last day on the job. Then again, I might not. What are the odds?

Seriously, in my retirement, I wish him the best and I hope he takes me out of his mixed bag of media and personal character assassination attempts.

Bismarck Tribune 

Well... he never did take me up on my request for an interview.  I never really expected him to agree to being interviewed. That's fine. (I wrote THIS PIECE about his closing salvo at the time.) 

But I like to say "North Dakota is a small town."  Others say it's "a small town with really long streets."  Irby and I have mutual friends. One of our mutual friends is, apparently, Jim Fuglie.  Jim, as you know, writes great stuff for his blog -- "The Prairie Blog" -- and has given me permission to cross post his blog posts.  Wednesday you saw Jim's most recent blog post.  Irby did too and commented on Jim's Facebook wall in response to the post. Here's what he wrote:

John Irby OK Jim, so what do "we" do to make it stop? It's great to write about it but does that alone make a difference? I tried to write about this kind of stuff when I was editor of the Tribune but got censored (one of the reasons I left). But what now? How about we form a task force of concerned citizens and meet in public and talk about possible solutions. I'm serious. Isn't there something "we" can do now that could make an impact and stop the runaway locomotive?

Facebook.com (emphasis added)

Here it is.

IrbyCensored003

Okay, so this is really embarassing and horrible, but I saw what Irby wrote Wednesday and really thought nothing of it. Why?!?  Because every unbiased, intelligent observer knows there's horrible, irresponsible pro-oil and pro-Republican censorship in the Tribune of news stories critical of oil development and Republicans. I feel bad that I didn't think this confession was a big deal when I first read it. Then, for some reason, it came across my FB newsfeed again yesterday. I re-read that sentence: "I tried to write about this kind of stuff when I was editor of the Tribune but got censored (one of the reasons I left)."  

Wait, what?!?  One of the reasons Irby left the Tribune was that his writing was censored?!?  

That doesn't make any sense.  In his "Good Bye Cruel World" (GBCW) farewell piece, above, Irby specifically told us "the real truth" about why he left the Bismarck Tribune. He even used the words "the real truth."  The "real truth" about why he left was that he was tired of the criticism about bias he suffered through from a mean blogger. He was tired of always getting criticism from Tribune readers who accused him and the Tribune of bias. He gave numerous examples of those vicious, unfair attacks.

Sure, you could pick through his farewell piece and argue that when he talks about "institutional concerns" he supported and agreed with them, and that those were about him being censored.  But if you look at the context of that "real truth," for example, you'll see he's talking about the Tribune's censorship policy as it related to vulgar, obscene, lewd, etc., comments below stories (something I think the Tribune has discontinued entirely, now.) When he talks about being a "whipping boy" to "one and all," he's obviously not talking about being censored; the context of the whole piece is that meanies like that one evil blogger are accusing him of showing bias.

Well... now he admits the evil blogger was right. Now he admits all the readers' observations about bias were true. And that, my friends, is kind of a big deal. Now, he all but admits that my conspiracy-dripping inquiry was pretty much spot-on. Now that he's off the Tribune's payroll. How courageous!

I spoke to a Lions Club luncheon about blogging earlier this week. It was kind of fun. (I even put together a PowerPoint presentation for it.) When I told the group I had been contacted on multiple occasions during my blogging "career" by mainstream media journalists who asked me if I would please cover a big story because they couldn't, the Lions' reaction was both visible and audible. I think there were people in the room who had no idea this goes on. But it does. And it's something I wish more people understood.

And Irby still hasn't called to do that interview. 

And I'm still not holding my breath.

 
Another Oil Patch Roundup
Written by Jim Fuglie   

(Cross-posted, with permission, from "The Prairie Blog")

There so much news coming out of the Oil Patch I can hardly absorb it. And, frankly, it scares the hell out of me. Partly because there really are things to be scared about, and partly because there is so much misinformation being spread around that I feel we’re in daily danger of not being able to trust anyone, and not be able to tell when we’re being lied to. For example:

THE SHUTDOWN

The Forum today reports:

The Bureau of Land Management’s North Dakota office is sitting on more than 500 oil and gas drilling permit applications, the White House told Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s office this week.

Which prompted this response from Heitkamp:

(Heitkamp) said companies with rigs with outstanding permits may move to private land because they’re sick of waiting. “We’ve been keeping pretty close tabs on all of these impacts.”

Which prompted this response from North Dakota Petroleum Council spokesperson Tessa Sandstrom:

NDPC spokeswoman Tessa Sandstrom said the shutdown will only add to delays. “They already struggle to keep up,” she said of the BLM. “Now they’re just gonna be that much further behind.”

Okay, ladies, stop with the bullshit. Neither one of you knows what you’re talking about, or if you do, you’re being deceitful.

First, Senator Heitkamp. Heidi, you’ve been snookered. You don’t really believe companies with drilling permits are sitting around a campfire out on the National Grasslands waiting for a federal permit, do you? “May move to private land because they’re tired of waiting.”? C’mon.

  • Every single drilling rig the industry can get its hands on is active. None are sitting idle.
  • If you check the oil and gas division website, you’ll find that the number of rigs drilling on federal land in any given month since the boom started varies between 0 and 6. More often 0 than 6. Mostly, there are just one or two drilling rigs on federal land. Why? Because the industry has ten-year leases on federal land, and just three or five year leases on private land, so they have to get those private leases drilled before they expire, or they will lose their investment in the lease. There’s no rush on the federal leases.

Second, Tessa Sandstrom. Read what I just wrote to Heidi. You are being disingenuous by saying there are going to be more “delays” to the oil industry. That’s B.S. and you know it. There’s not going to be a line of oil company executives standing outside the door of the BLM office when it reopens for business. Or any time after that. The oil companies are so busy drilling in Mountrail and Divide and Williams counties, etc., that they are not even paying attention to their federal leases. It’s bullshit like this that causes you to lose credibility with people like me.

For the record, here are the numbers of drilling rigs working on federal land so far in the calendar year 2013 (you can get this yourself from the Oil and Gas Division website):

January—0

February—1

March—1

April—4

May—4

June—3

July—2

August—0

September—0

0ctober—0

Date the BLM shut its doors because of the federal: shutdown: October 1, 2013.

THE TIOGA OIL SPILL

Here’s another report from Today’s Forum:

BISMARCK — Scientists who helped calculate oil spilled from a broken BP well into the Gulf of Mexico are questioning the methodology used to estimate the amount of crude that recently leaked from a ruptured pipeline into a wheat field in northwestern North Dakota. Tesoro Corp. said it came up with its more than 20,000-barrel spill estimate using ground analysis. But oil spill experts say a more accurate assessment likely would come from calculating how much crude went into the pipeline versus what was supposed to come out at its terminus. (emphasis mine)

To calculate the amount of oil spilled, Tesoro, in a statement issued to the Associated Press, said its “site investigation was developed based on well-established and recognized American Petroleum Institute, Geologic Society of America and American Institute of Professional Geologists standards.”

But wait. Someone from the Associated Press decided to call the Geologic Society of America and the American Institute of Professional Geologists to verify that claim. Again, from The Forum story:

Jack Hess, executive director of the Geologic Society of America, and Bill Siok, executive director of the American Institute of Professional Geologists, said their groups have no such standards. (emphasis mine)

“We’ve never issued any guidelines over oil spills,” Hess said. “That’s not the kind of business we are in and something we wouldn’t get into.”

Siok said: “I’m stumped. I kind of suspect they made an incorrect reference.”

Yeah. Or something like that. That was pretty polite there, Mr. Siok. I wonder what you said privately in your telephone call to Tesoro. Something like “#@%&%$#@%***&%$@***,” maybe?

In other words, if we are to believe expert geologists with no dog in the fight, we have no idea how much really leaked. Once more from The Forum:

Purdue University engineering professor Steve Wereley said Tesoro’s calculation of how much oil it released in the North Dakota wheat field likely is “at best, a guess.” Wereley, who along with other scientists helped estimate the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf in 2010, said he was unaware of any scientific studies that could back Tesoro’s estimates. Wereley and Ian MacDonald, a Florida State University oceanographer who also worked on spill estimates in the Gulf, said detailed oil flow data from the pipeline would provide regulators with a better estimate of the amount of crude spilled in North Dakota.

So it is time, right now, to go to Tesoro headquarters, wherever that is, and request some numbers. Like, how much oil went into that pipeline, and how much came out. What’s missing is what is in Steve Jensen’s field in Williams County. Dave Glatt, chief of the North Dakota Health Department’s environmental health section had a very defensive letter to the editor in most of the state’s daily papers this morning—methinks he doth protest too much. In it he says “Tesoro’s report indicated that the spill did not pose any apparent danger to public safety and didn’t threaten ground water or surface water supplies. A preliminary assessment by state officials also found no threat to public health or water supplies.” Well, take a look at this picture of the spill site. I don’t know about you, but I think I see quite a bit of water in that trench in the middle of the photo. Anyway, Glatt says he’s going to do some checking. And then, probably about ten or twelve days later, he’ll share what he learned with us.

FLARING

The news in the Tribune today is about record production of oil and natural gas in North Dakota. “We blew through 900,000 barrels per day in August . . . 1 billion cubic feet of gas,” North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said.

Later in the story, the Tribune reported that Helms reported that we flared 9.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas in August. 9.4 billion. With a B. I’m an English major, and don’t do math very well, but I’ve tried to relate that to something I can understand. So I got out my MDU bill file, and found the coldest month I could find, to see how much natural gas we used to heat our house. Says we used about 30 dekatherms one month. That’s the highest I could find. Mr. Google helped me convert that to cubic feet. 30 dekatherms is about 29,000 cubic feet. That’s the most we have used in one month in our house. But that’s just the coldest month. Because Lillian keeps good records, I was able to determine that over a normal year’s time, we use about an average of 12.5 dekatherms, or 12,000 cubic feet, of natural gas per month to heat and cool our house. Of course, we are kind of stingy, and we wear sweaters in the winter and tee shirts and shorts in the summer, keeping the thermometer about 68 in the winter and 78 in the summer. But still . . .

We here in North Dakota are flaring 9.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas every month. Doing the math (I had to drop a zero from each number, because my little hand-held calculator doesn’t have enough zeros to accommodate 9.4 billion, but I think I got it right), 9.4 billion cubic feet flared, divided by the average 12,000 cubic feet per month we use at our house, we are flaring enough gas to heat and cool about 780,000 houses like ours. Forever. If everyone dressed like us. Every house in North and South Dakota and another 100,000 in Minnesota.

Or, to put it another way, if we could take all the natural gas that we are going to burn at the wellhead in the next 30 days, and store it in a really big tank, and run a line from that tank to my house, I could keep my house at 68 degrees in the winter and 78 in the summer for the next 65,000 years.

That our Industrial Commission—Wayne Stenehjem, Doug Goehring and Jack Dalrymple—would let our production get that far ahead of our takeaway system is unconscionable. It is the most irresponsible thing our state—any state—has ever done. Not only is it horribly wasteful, but it is pumping untold amounts of pollutants into the air. It should stop right now. It is another reason why WE SHOULD STOP ISSUING DRILLING PERMITS RIGHT NOW. Do you think the Industrial Commission in 1980, composed of Art Link, Myron Just and Allen Olson, would have allowed this? Or the Industrial Commission in 1992, composed of George Sinner, Sarah Vogel and Nick Spaeth? Or any other Industrial Commission, dating back to statehood?  Of course not. Those three men are an embarrassment to our state. Let the oil flow. Let the bank balance grow. Let the gas glow. Sad.

MAKING A LIST

Yesterday I wrote about Wayne Stenehjem’s secret task force and the secret meetings it’s been holding. I also sent an e-mail to Wayne’s spokesperson, Liz Brocker, asking her:

I understand either the Attorney General or the Industrial Commission has appointed a task force to provide advice on “special places” in North Dakota. Who can provide me information about that?

Here’s what she wrote back:

There’s no formal task force. Wayne has met with folks who have specialized backgrounds and ideas on oil development issues, to provide advice and guidance to him. This is not an appointment from the Industrial Commission, just one member seeking assistance from people with ideas of their own for him to weigh.

No “formal” task force. Just a task force that has held two meetings in the Attorney General’s conference room.

“Wayne has met with folks . . .” Yeah, right, he met with them at organized meetings of a group of 10 or 11 people, including other state employees, in his office. I know. I talked to some of them after Monday’s meeting. Wonder if he paid mileage? Or if the counties whose commissioners are part of the task force got stuck for the bill?

Who do they think they’re kidding? Don’t they know that most of us who aren’t lawyers can see through that “lawyer talk” that probably is technically correct, or almost so, but designed to obfuscate the reality of what is going on.

Wayne offered to meet with me to talk about it. Y’know, there was a day when we used to have a beer once in a while, or have a smoke when the Legislators had a smoking lounge behind the Senate chambers, and I enjoyed those conversations. Not any more. I’m not going to take him up on his offer. He has way more important things to do than waste time talking to a blogger. I just wish he would do them.

HALEK OPERATING FINE

Assistant Attorney General Hope Hogan has filed suit against Halek Operating in an attempt to collect a $1.5 million fine that Halek was supposed to have paid back in August. I have written about this before. Now, instead of the Industrial Commission trying to collect the money from the company that dumped 800,000 gallons of salt water (hmmm, just about the same number of gallons of oil that leaked from a pipeline about 150 miles to the north—wonder if there’s any connection?) down a well south of Dickinson, threatening the area’s ground water, a judge out in Dickinson is going to have to try to collect the money. Well, good luck with that. More on this next week.

 
Of Lists And Secret Meetings
Written by Jim Fuglie   

(Cross-posted, with permission, from "The Prairie Blog.")

I’m not sure how long Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem intended to keep his secret task force on “places not to put oil wells” a secret, but North Dakota is still a pretty small state, and the North Dakota Capitol is a relatively small building, and it’s pretty hard to keep anything that goes on there a secret.

Stenehjem has appointed a committee of about ten people, including three state employees and two county commissioners, to deal with the issue of “special places” in the Oil Patch, places where he and his fellow Industrial Commission members should give some special consideration as they grant drilling permits to oil companies.

I’ve written about this before. There have been applications for drilling permits beside national parks, inside wildlife management areas and national wildlife refuges, near Indian sacred sites, inside state parks, and in sensitive roadless areas. Some have been granted, some have been withdrawn, but I can’t remember the Industrial Commission ever denying one. To his credit, Wayne has been nervous about all this, and has suggested that a list of “special places” be developed for Industrial Commission members to keep their eyes on.

A couple months ago, the Industrial Commission released a list of nearly 40 places that had been submitted by people who wanted those places protected. The list has shown up in print, but hasn’t been widely discussed. And there has been nothing forthcoming from the Industrial Commission about how they want to use it. Like a lot of government lists, it’s in danger of gathering dust on a shelf and never being heard from again.

Wayne wants to take it further, I guess, so he appointed his own “private task force” to look into the matter. The group had its second meeting yesterday, in the conference room at the Attorney General’s office in the State Capitol building (not a very “private” place). You didn’t read about it in the paper or hear it on the radio or see it on TV, because no one in the media knew about it. That’s the way the Attorney General wanted it. He says the meetings of the group are not subject to the state’s open meetings law. He should know. He’s the top law enforcement officer in North Dakota, and he and his predecessors have been asked hundreds of times to interpret it. Still . . .

Article XI of the North Dakota Constitution says:

Unless otherwise provided by law, all meetings of public or governmental bodies, boards, bureaus, commissions, or agencies of the state or any political subdivision of the state, or organizations or agencies supported in whole or in part by public funds, or expending public funds, shall be open to the public.

The question of who this law applies to has been asked so many times that the Attorney General has published a “North Dakota Open Meetings Manual.” On page 2 of the manual, the Attorney General answers the question “Who is subject to the open meetings law?” The answer:

“Public or governmental bodies, boards, bureaus, commissions or agencies of the state, including any entity created or recognized by the Constitution of North Dakota, state statute, or executive order of the governor or any task force or working group created by the individual in charge of a state agency or institution, to exercise public authority or perform a governmental function . . .” (emphasis mine)

“’Task force or working group’ means a group of individuals who have been formally appointed and delegated to meet as a group to assist, advise, or act on behalf of the individual in charge of a state agency or institution when a majority of the members of the group are not employees of the agency or institution.” N.D.C.C. § 44-04-17.1(16).” (emphasis mine)

Okay, let’s see now, Wayne has appointed a task force whose members are mostly private citizens, not state employees, to advise him. Does that fit anywhere in that definition, from that manual, do you think?

Well, never mind that. That’s for the real North Dakota media to figure out. They and their lawyer, Jack McDonald can go there if they want to. That’s THEIR job. I’m more concerned about the substance of what Wayne is doing.

No one has told me yet exactly what this group is supposed to do, beyond identifying a list of places where Wayne and his fellow Industrial Commission members should exercise caution. Apparently the list provided earlier isn’t good enough. Perhaps it is too big. Aha, now we might be getting to the heart of things.

First, let’s look at who’s on this task force. I mentioned three state employees earlier, remember? I suppose we might expect the North Dakota Game and Fish Commissioner, the State Parks Director, and the Director of the State Historical Society of North Dakota would be a good place to start then, eh?  Well, we’d be expecting wrong. Because none of them are on it, nor is any one from their agencies. The three agencies in charge of the most important public lands and cultural and natural resources in the state aren’t represented.

Instead, it has an engineer whose firm is one of the biggest players in the Oil Patch, a couple of county commissioners from the Oil Patch, a newspaper columnist and scholar who writes from time to time about the energy industry, one natural resources professional, the President of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, and three lawyers, two of whom work for Stenehjem and one who’s retired but spent much of his career as an assistant attorney general. Oh, and the head of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, recognizing that much of the oil industry development is going on in what used to be, or still is, Indian Country. These are the people who are going to compile a list of places chosen for special consideration when drilling permits are requested.

Task force members I talked to today told me that Wayne has assured all of them that they are not in violation of the Open Meetings Law, and they were satisfied with that, including the county commissioners, who are generally very, very careful about that law. They weren’t very clear about what the outcome of all this is going to be though.

What’s most disappointing, I learned, is that they have already been presented a list that is much shorter than the one the Industrial Commission released earlier, and pretty much been told to stick to that list. In my opinion, the earlier list was still too short.

I’m going to give the Attorney General some credit here for taking the lead on this whole issue of “special places.” But his suggestion is starting to ring hollow. It was made way back in May, and now, five months later, it appears a new effort is just getting started, and a shallow effort at that. And this new list is being developed by a group which does not include anyone from the state agencies most concerned with what is going on. I wonder how those agency heads feel about that. Or if they even knew about it before they read this (actually, they didn’t—I called to find out—but they’re scrambling right now to see what is going on).

There is already a list. The State Historical Society, for example, submitted sites to be included. That list has been reviewed by, but not adopted by, the Commission which issues all the drilling permits. In the absence of any formal structure to carefully check on where all these new wells are going to be, the Commission is issuing hundreds of drilling permits every month. It would be so easy to take the list compiled earlier, update it to include all the state and federal wildlife areas, have the three state agency heads review it, adopt it, and then develop a database of legal descriptions of all those places and run the drilling permit requests, all of which have legal descriptions, against that list and give special consideration—at least discuss—those which make a computer match. And, as I suggested last month, STOP ISSUING DRILLING PERMITS UNTIL THAT IS DONE. At least then we would know when places we are all concerned about are going to get an oil well. But you know what? I’m really convinced these people just don’t give a shit about what is going on. It’s all about money.

Anyway, it would be good for the Attorney General to do his work in the light of day. I’m going to find out when the next meeting is. I’m going to go. I hope some news media folks will join me. And also people who might be concerned about what’s going to be on this list, and what’s going to happen when it is completed. I’ll let you know when I find out the date.

 

 

 

 
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