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Democrats say oil regulation, promotion duties should be split

BISMARCK – North Dakota’s Democratic legislative leadership is calling for the state to separate the oil regulation and promotion responsibilities of the director of the Department of  Mineral Resources.

In a letter sent today, the state Senate and House minority leaders ask the North Dakota Industrial Commission to “restore public trust that has been shaken by recent events related to the development of our state's oil resources.”

The letter cites recent actions by Lynn Helms, the state’s top oil and gas regulator, related to the Tioga oil spill, statements regarding the volatility of Bakken crude and a mistake involving the permitting of a waste pit.

“Recent, high-profile incidents across the state confirm the public is ill-served by a Director who is charged with regulating the development he is duty-bound to promote,” write Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, and Rep. Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall.

Many western North Dakota residents are angry with Helms, but that anger should be directed at the Industrial Commission, Onstad said in a statement.

“Lynn Helms is only doing what Governor Dalrymple, Attorney General Stenehjem, and Agriculture Commissioner Goehring are telling him to do. The buck doesn’t stop with Helms. It stops with the Industrial Commission,” Onstad said. “Dalrymple, Stenehjem, and Goehring should share the heat with Helms for these failures.”

Schneider and Onstad announced they are proposing legislation to be introduced in the 2015 legislative session that would permanently separate responsibilities of regulation and promotion.

In the near term, the North Dakota Democrats ask the Industrial Commission to “use its authority to divest the promotion of oil development from its regulation.”

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