- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The Williston Herald, Williston, Dec. 13, 2014

If the Bakken is busting, just say so

Oil has been in the news a lot in the past month.

Prices are plunging - 40 percent since June - which brings the inevitable question to the surface: Is North Dakota’s latest and greatest oil boom going bust?

That all depends who you talk to.

Analysts from one side of the aisle are predicting prices to continue falling, and OPEC’s price war squeezing shale producers right out of business.

Others aren’t predicting. Instead opting to lay out the groundwork for all situations.

On the other side of the coin, there’s massive optimism that prices will rebound to some sort of level that’s profitable again.

Somewhere in between are those of us living in middle of the production, the anxiety, the fear and the hope.

It’s those of us in the middle of the fray, and in the middle of the available knowledge, who stand to lose and gain the most with oil’s future, both immediate and long term.

We want to urge the state regulators, forecasters and analysts to keep that in mind as the picture becomes more clear for the Bakken and its productivity cycle.

If this is really only a slow period, tell us.

If the state has real fears the bubble is bursting - again - tell us.

If nobody has any clue as to what the future holds, and what is happening right now, tell us.

Transparency about the current and future outlook of the Bakken’s oil is the only clear answer from here on out.

That’s what a good state government would ultimately do for both its people and its businesses.

Here in the oil patch, we’ve been blessed with many riches and positive changes from the current production cycle.

After Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s budget proposal last week, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer.

We just hope that light is a sustainable, affordable and more livable city, and not a freight train leaving town with empty oil tankers, on its way back to Texas or Oklahoma.

Shawn Wenko and the staff at Williston Economic Development are doing great work to start pushing Williston beyond a two-pronged economy of oil and agriculture.

We’ve encouraged the city multiple times now to diversify the local economy, and it’s beginning to happen.

It needs to happen.

But our city leaders can only do so much, especially at this point of the process.

They don’t have inside tracks to the oil industry. They don’t have a crystal ball. And they certainly didn’t have time to prepare for the big boom when it happened.

The state and industry don’t have a crystal ball either, we understand that much.

But, both should have a better idea of what is truly happening with oil prices and the future of the Bakken as it becomes known.

If the bullish stance is the right one - and we hope it is - then stick with it.

Otherwise, if it’s not, give western North Dakota the courtesy of blowing the freight train’s whistle before it hits us.

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The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Dec. 17, 2014

New transport safety rules a good step

Tighter rules for oil transport were recently passed by the North Dakota State Industrial Commission. The new rules, which take effect on April 1, include transported North Dakota crude oil not exceeding a vapor pressure of 13.7 pounds per square inch.

The Industrial Commission’s decision makes concessions to both industry and to those concerned with public safety related to the volatility of Bakken crude transported by rail, but still leaves a level of uncertainty.

Communities situated along railways carrying Bakken oil to market, both within and outside the state critics appropriately note, still will be at risk in the event of a derailment of trains carrying light-sweet oil produced from the Bakken formation to market.

Industry officials have countered by saying the new regulations are too specific in setting mandates and could result in an increase in flaring. Flaring, while not preferred, is one method used to decrease light-ends found in Bakken crude, light hydrocarbon molecules volatile in nature.

Stabilizing Bakken crude and requiring it to be under 13.7 psi before loading it into tanker cars is the right first step. However, the 13.7 psi mark and degree of safety it really offers, is still in question.

The 13.7 mark, although below the federal standard of 14.7, doesn’t offer complete assurance that oil transported below that threshold means public safety needs will be met. Tragedies like the one in Quebec last year that claimed 47 lives when a train transporting Bakken crude derailed in the town of Lac-Megantic, indicated its Bakken cargo had an estimated vapor pressure below 10.

Reducing vapor pressure, while a critical step, is only one component that must be considered. Train safety issues including use of older DOT-111 tank cars, the same model involved in the Lac-Megantic crash, and rail inspection levels must continue to be addressed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Contributing factors in Lac-Megantic tragedy in addition to a volatile cargo included an engine fire, failure to set enough parking brakes and not moving the train off of the main track, underscore the need for numerous safety procedures to be in place and followed when transporting hazardous cargo.

More state inspectors are being recommended by the Department of Mineral Resources for the upcoming biennium. They should be granted by the Legislature.

Oil is a valuable resource. The resurgence of oil activity in the Williston Basin has meant more new jobs, and better wages for many living in western North Dakota. It’s created opportunities, and expanded the state’s economic base.

At the same time, public safety must come first. It will take a collaborative effort between state and federal officials. There’s too much at stake for anything less.

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Minot Daily News, Minot, Dec. 17, 2014

Potato ban half-baked mandate

If you are a low-income woman planning to pay for all or part of your groceries with vouchers from the federal WIC program, feel free to load up the cart with any fruits and vegetables you like.

Except potatoes. They are banned under the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. Why? WIC clients might use them to make french fries.

That is why the WIC program has banned potatoes - because oils used to cook french fries may be unhealthy. Never mind the many benefits of potatoes, including nutrition, cost and versatility. The humble spud can be prepared in many healthy ways.

A bill in Congress includes a provision that would allow WIC clients to use vouchers to purchase potatoes. Obviously, the measure should be enacted.

Bureaucrats in charge of the modern Nanny State often decide to use government to inflict their philosophies about what is good and bad on the rest of us. Look at school lunch rules, which have resulted in higher expense for many schools, for example. Or think about vehicle safety requirements that limit our choices of cars and trucks.

The WIC potato ban is just one in a long list of half-baked mandates from Washington. Good riddance to it.

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