- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Minot Daily News, Minot, Jan. 12, 2014

Weather wimps? Not here

Weather wimps.

That’s what we’ve become, according to some scientific experts who track trends in the nation’s weather patterns. They cite endless piles of statistics in an attempt to prove their point, which is that with a warming planet, there are fewer extreme cold weather events than ever before. Americans have forgotten what truly cold weather feels like, they say.

Well, maybe that’s true in some parts of the nation, where complaints escalate when the mercury plunges to, gasp, 20 degrees above zero. But try telling that to “weather wimps” residing here in the plains states, where temps of 30 degrees below zero or more combined with strong winds during the past week to plunge North Dakota and other locations into the deep, deep freeze.

Weather wimps? We think not.

Had any major city on the East Coast experienced such cold weather as we had last week, the national media would have been out in hordes marveling at the few brave souls who dared to venture outside their homes. Al Roker would have bundled up like the abominable snowman, stood outside for barely a minute and proclaimed that the world was about to come to a frozen end. In North Dakota, we called it Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

While we agree that our memories tend to be short when it comes to weather, it’s for good reason. Who wants to remember those frigid days? Most of us have heard an elderly relative begin a story with a phrase like “I remember the winter of 1936…” We don’t necessarily believe those stories, just like we really don’t believe the endless stories we tell our own children of the days when we trudged to school in the snow wearing popcorn boxes for shoes and keeping baked potatoes in our pockets to keep us warm.

Weather wimps? Nope. For optimistic residents around here, making it through a week of extremely cold weather simply means being another week closer to spring.

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Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Jan. 12, 2014

Better permit review needed

The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources was quick to have drilling waste be removed from a pit over the water supply for the community of Ross. A permit for the oil field waste pit should never have been granted. That it was has raised concerns about access and information-sharing among oil-producing counties and state regulators.

The incident also has raised questions about the quality of information available to field inspectors and county and state officials.

More effort needs to be made to communicate among the various layers of authority in the oil patch. Responsibility for dealing with different degrees of waste need to be clarified and streamlined. The object isn’t to create an obstacle to drilling, but make sure everyone gets it right the first time.

In this case, the state inspector granted a permit to an oil company for a waste pit near Ross. The pit was used for less than a day before it was shutdown, after it was discovered to be located in the Ross Wellhead Protection zone. No apparent damage was done, and for that we can be thankful.

How did it happen? The oil company found a high-water table where it initially had an approved permit, so a Mineral Resources inspector helped the company identify a new site. But the inspector didn’t have access to a map showing the location of the town’s aquifer - the Ross Wellhead Protection zone - and the new permit was given for a restricted area.

The inspectors now have information about wellhead protection zones.

But how did it happen? Ross, population 106, is just west of Stanley in Mountrail County. The county has a six-month moratorium on considering special oil field waste permits, for which it has authority. The permit for Oasis, the oil company in this story, was not a special oil field waste permit. It was a regular waste permit granted through the Mineral Resources Department for specific spacing units. The pit prepared at Ross is as big as a football field and only waste from that 1,280-acre spacing unit could be placed in it.

Different kinds of pits. Different waste. Different authority. Hence, the need for a different and higher level of communication.

The Mountrail County Commission established the six-month moratorium because it was struggling with requests for two super-sized waste permits proposed a half mile apart. The state knew that. The state should have informed county officials of the new Oasis pit in context of the moratorium.

Having the state check with the county could well have caught the encroachment in Ross’s Wellhead Protection zone and saved the worry over the community water supply. Talking to the county could have meant the oil company saved the time and money spent relocating the pit.

Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms takes responsibility for the miscue, as he should. This wasn’t the oil company’s fault, and the company began to remove the pit of its own accord almost immediately.

Landowners and the public, including counties and municipalities like Ross, have real concerns about oil waste, whether it’s simple cutting from the well site or the disposal of toxic materials from the fracking process. It’s a valid worry, and the government has an obligation to make sure these materials are processed and disposed of properly.

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Williston Herald, Williston, Jan. 11, 2014

County should make sure fines get attention of violators

Last month, Williams County commissioners reversed themselves, turning a $1.2 million fine levied against Top Notch Services into a $12,000 fine.

Top Notch was initially fined for operating an unlicensed RV park for its employees. But when the business was notified and threatened with the massive fine, it removed all the RVs and found housing for items employees elsewhere.

Commissioners agreed to greatly reduce the fine because the business made the changes that were requested. Commissioners also felt confident the owners of the business would not make the same mistake again.

Commissioner David Montgomery said he initially wanted to “put some teeth into our violators to get their attention, and I think we got your attention.”

The reason for a fine is just that - to get the attention of violators and to make them change. Fines are not designed to be a big money maker for the county. In fact, I think we would all prefer no one break the rules so no fines were ever collected.

The commissioners were right to lower the fine against Top Notch. The business went out of its way to make sure it was in compliance, and the county got what it ultimately wanted.

Having said that, commissioners should think twice before following the precedent they set when considering a $2.6 million fine imposed against Stallion Oilfield Services.

Stallion is facing the fine after county employees found 52 skid units and six RVS at a site permitted for 25 skid units and no RVS.

After the county imposed the fine, Stallion appealed and came to commissioners last week armed with attorneys and denials.

Greg Heller said Stallion has done nothing wrong despite admitting multiple units were attached together as one. Heller said the units don’t have inner walls and must be attached.

Rather than apologizing and making the requested changes like Top Notch Services did, Stallion chose to fight the county and insisted it did nothing wrong.

“The real dispute here is a difference in counting,” attorney Levi Andrist said.

Stallion invited county officials to visit the site, and we encourage them to do so. We hope they find Stallion has fully complied.

The way the two companies responded to big fines was strikingly different. Top Notch immediately made changes and asked for Mercy.

Stallion admits it has made no changes and insisted it was innocent.

In the end, a $2.6 million fine is probably excessive. But before the county repeats what it did with Top Notch, we would like to be certain the possible fine has gotten the attention of Stallion.

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