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Journalism 101
Written by Jim Fuglie   
Friday, 01 November 2013 12:41

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

A friend of mine once described me as a “lapsed journalist.” I corrected him and said I was a “recovering journalist.” In either case, the title gives me the credentials to tell you a story about the sorry state of journalism in North Dakota.

Last Sunday, the Forum Communications Company’s North Dakota papers ran a story written by a young reporter that was generated by a blog post I wrote a couple weeks ago. (My blog, coincidentally, is hosted by Forum Communications, and shows up on the Area Voices sections of the websites of their newspapers, four of which—The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, The Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun and The Dickinson Press—are in North Dakota. It’s on their websites for now, at least. That may change after I finish writing this. I hope not, though.) In the blog post, I was pretty critical of Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. The issue was the list of “Special Places” the North Dakota Industrial Commission is compiling, places which may or may not get special consideration when the Commission issues oil and gas drilling permits. You can read the story here if you want to.

The story was a summary of a long interview the reporter did with the Attorney General. Wayne defended what he had been doing that I was critical of, refuted a few things I said, but generally was kinder to me than I had been to him. That’s his style, and it’s why I still kind of like him. The reporter, however, was not so kind. He summarized what my blog had said in two sentences and then wrote “Fuglie did not return a phone message left at his home Thursday.”

As I said, the story ran on Sunday. Three days after he said he left me a message. Except that he didn’t leave me a message. Because I don’t have a phone at my home. When Lillian and I moved back to Bismarck in 2009, we both had cell phones, all of our friends had our numbers, and we couldn’t see wasting 50 or 60 bucks a month on a land line. So we didn’t.

Now, the fact that the story said I didn’t return the reporter’s call could have left, and probably did leave, a bad impression of me with the readers. Hmmm, Fuglie was afraid to respond to Stenehjem, or didn’t care enough to tell his side of the story, or something like that. Because the story ran on Sunday, and he got the message way back on Thursday. Surely Fuglie had time to return the call in three days.

All I know is, it really pissed me off. Not that I had much more to say (although I am usually not at a loss for words when a microphone is waved in front of my face), but that readers got a bad impression of me for not responding. So when I read the story, I found the reporter’s e-mail address and sent him an e-mail telling him I had no home phone and had never received a phone message from him.  After a brief exchange of e-mails (all of which included my cell phone number) he explained that he had done something called a Lexis/Nexis search for me which turned up an old phone number which had been assigned to me back in 1982 and which was disconnected when I moved out to western North Dakota in 2004. His search showed my correct current address, with no current phone number, but it did show the old phone number listed by Lexis/Nexis with a previous address where I had lived when I had that phone number—nine years ago. So he called that number and left a message. On the voice mail of the person who now has that phone number. And then waited for me to respond. And that was the extent of his search for me, to include my comments in his story.

In his e-mail response to me, when he sent me his Lexis/Nexis search story, he ended his e-mail with “Just curious, is the other Jim Fuglie (wife Rose) a relative of yours?

I wrote back that my wife’s name is Lillian, and that there is only one other Jim Fuglie in the whole world, my third cousin in Minneapolis, whose wife’s name is Kaye. But I puzzled over that question for a while, and then decided to become a reporter and do some investigating. I wanted to know whose voice mail he had left a message for me on. So I went to the online White Pages directory and did a reverse phone look-up for the number that used to be mine. Sure enough, it has been reassigned. To James Rose. Hmmm.  James Rose. Hmmm. Jim Rose. Light bulb came on. I called the number. Got a voice mail message: “Hello, this is Jim Rose. I can’t come to the phone right now . . .” Not “Jim and Rose.” Just “Jim Rose.” Articulated very clearly. Mystery solved. I did not leave a message.

Well, that, unfortunately, has become the standard for reporting the news in North Dakota. Write a story, make a half-hearted effort to contact people named in the story, then run it. My, how things have changed since my days as a reporter and editor. My editor at the Dickinson Press once told me “It is not good enough to say someone was ‘unavailable for comment’ (which I once tried to do in a story about coal development in 1975) until you have exhausted every possibility that you might be able to track them down.” In our case, that meant staying on the phone right up until our 9:30 or 10 p.m. deadline, or driving to the bowling alley where they might be in a league, or calling their cousin in Bowman to see if he knew where the person might be. I often was able to reach someone who was a principal in a story by simply staying with the effort. And in pretty much every case, it made the story better. Sometimes, when you could not get both sides of the story, you had to just hold the story until the next day (or until Sunday), until you finally reached everybody. Not in 2013. Today, you just say “Well, we left a message for the asshole, but he didn’t call us back, so screw him.” Usually, though, I think the reporters try to make sure they leave the message at the right house.  Usually. Not always. Of course, in my day there was no such thing as voice mail, so you couldn’t just say “He did not return a phone message left at his home Thursday.” You actually had to keep calling back until you either reached someone or you reached your deadline.

There’s a story I used to tell reporters who worked for me, or with me, that bears repeating. It was election night, 1972 at The Dickinson Press. The entire Press staff was working the phones, tracking down election results, including a young high school senior, who was a paid part-time staffer, but I suppose would be called an intern today.  County auditors in southwest North Dakota had been asked to call in the results of the election in their county. The Press was not only doing its own story, but forwarding the results to the Associated Press, which was compiling the results statewide and announcing the winners. There was a very close race for Governor between Art Link and Richard Larsen, and it was not going to be decided until every county’s results had been tabulated.

As the paper’s deadline neared, The Press staff had results from all of its assigned counties except Adams County, in extreme southwest North Dakota. There was no answer at the county auditor’s office. The office had been closed for the night and everyone gone home, without reporting in. What to do? Put the paper to bed without the Adams County results? Nope, said the editor, keep trying. We’ll hold the presses.

Well, it turns out one reporter happened to be from Adams County, and he told the young intern the auditor’s name and said to call her home. He did. No answer. Well, then, call the bars in Hettinger, starting with the Pastime, the reporter said to the intern. Sometimes they go out for a drink after they are done working.

Bingo. She was at the Pastime. She had the results in her car. She got them and gave them to the intern over the phone from the bar. With that, the story was complete and the paper went to print. In the morning, everyone knew that in spite of the fact Richard Larsen had beaten Art Link by 16 votes out of almost 2,000 cast in Adams County, Art Link had been elected Governor, by less than 5,000 votes statewide. (And, as an aside, that Byron Dorgan beat Richard Lommen for State Tax Commissioner by a vote of 1,350 to 377 in Adams County.)

It would have been easy for The Press to report “Results from Adams County were not available because the county auditor failed to report them.” Would have made the auditor look pretty bad. But the newspaper’s job is to gather the news, and report it. Not reporting it is cheating the newspaper’s subscribers, who paid to learn who won the election. And because that young high school senior, Clay Jenkinson, listened to that former Adams County resident across the desk from him, Jim Fuglie, and got back on the phone and started calling bars, earning himself the nickname “Scoop” from that day forward, the story was complete. That’s good journalism, the way it used to be practiced. And should still be. But these days, a voice mail is sufficient. Even if it is pretty clear that the voice mail was left on someone else’s phone.

In this case, the reporter tried to reach me on a Thursday. I did not respond immediately because I did not get the message. But the story did not run until Sunday. So he had Friday and Saturday to try to track me down to ask me whatever it was he was going to ask me. He didn’t do that. These days, it is pretty easy to track someone down, with all the communications devices available. I communicate regularly with a number of Forum Communications employees by e-mail and phone. I am Facebook friends with many of them, including both Bill Marcils. My e-mail is on my Facebook page. I have a comment section on my blog, which sends me an e-mail when someone comments, as he should have known, since the blog is on all the Forum Communications websites. Pretty much everyone who knows me or knows of me knows that I worked for the Democratic-NPL Party and the Medora Foundation, so they would surely know how to find me. I could go on.

But you know what? I don’t just fault the reporter. That story appeared in four North Dakota newspapers. It had to get past four city editors before it got into the papers. Every one of those editors should have said “Wait a minute, how hard did you try to reach Fuglie? Try again. The story is not complete, and you have a couple days to fix it.” But instead, they just ran with what they had. Bad journalism. Top to bottom.

To their credit, senior editors at the Grand Forks Herald, by far the state’s best newspaper, took a look at the story when it appeared in the paper and said “Well, that’s not good enough.” So they ran an editorial the next day, which you can read here. The Dickinson Press also reprinted it a couple days later. The Forum ran a correction in the paper the next day which said “A message left Thursday for former North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party executive director Jim Fuglie was left at the wrong phone number, so Fuglie did not have an opportunity to respond to a request for comment. This information was incorrect in a story on Page C1 of Sunday’s Forum about North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s effort to compile a list of ‘extraordinary places’ in the state for protection from energy development and other impacts.” I wasn’t able to get printed copies of the other three papers so I don’t know if they also ran the correction. None of them ran it on their website, where I first read the story, that I can tell.

Now, I hope readers don’t get the impression I’m feeling picked on or feeling sorry for myself. I’m not. This isn’t really about me, and it really isn’t about the young reporter who did this story. I’ve been bemoaning the sorry state of journalism in North Dakota for a long time, and this is a classic example of how the news media here operates today. Next time you read a newspaper story, and you come to the line “Fred did not respond to a request for comment” you’ll likely know that the reporter did not really make much of an effort to reach Fred, and his or her editor did not care. I am a newspaper junkie, having been raised in the profession. But I have a lot of friends who have just given up on subscribing to their local paper because of the quality of journalism they see, and have come to expect. Instead, they glance through the news online. They watch “The Daily Show” (but not the six o’clock news). Newspaper circulation continues to decline. So do television news ratings. There’s a reason. You just finished reading about it.

Footnote: A short crime story in Friday’s Bismarck Tribune, by an Associated Press writer, contained these three statements:

  • The man’s attorney, Henry Howe, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
  • Pembina County State’s Attorney Barbara Whelan also did not immediately return a call seeking more information on the case.
  • The woman did not immediately respond to requests for comment made Thursday through Facebook. (!!!) (emphasis and exclamatory incredibility mine)

I checked online, and it ran in pretty much every paper in the state. Just like that. Apparently this is indeed the new standard for news reporting (and editing) in North Dakota. Isn’t that sad?

 
MDU Welcoming Corrupt ALEC Organization To Bismarck
Written by Chet   
Friday, 01 November 2013 09:10

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   
Friday, 25 October 2013 12:55
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   
Friday, 25 October 2013 09:12

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   
Friday, 25 October 2013 08:22

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   
Thursday, 24 October 2013 08:32

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   
Saturday, 19 October 2013 09:08

(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   
Friday, 18 October 2013 05:03

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   
Wednesday, 16 October 2013 15:23

(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.

 
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