An environmental group has taken the State Industrial Commission's Department of Mineral Resources to task for allowing its Web site to become a tool of the petroleum industry.
Dakota Resource Council, based in Dickinson, objects to the department using its Web site to encourage people to contact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with their opposition to regulations on hydraulic fracturing. The agency Web site includes a link to Energy Citizen, which provides a form letter that pepole can electronically send to the EPA. Energy Citizen is funded by the American Petroleum Institute.
Hydraulic fracturing uses water pressure to fracture rock and allow oil and natural gas to escape. It is commonly used in oil drilling in North Dakota.
"For our government to not only promote an industry position but to ask that citizens agree is irresponsible," Donny Nelson of Keene, chairman of DRC's Oil and Gas Task Force, said in a prepared statement. "To ensure corporate interests over the public's is just unbelievably incompetent and simply not the Industrial Commission's job."
Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, said he chose to include the link on the Web site as a service to people who want to comment on an EPA review of hydraulic fracturing. People can add or delete from the letter to say whatever they wish about hydraulic fracturing, he said. However, the statement on the Oil & Gas page encourages people to click on the link "to tell the EPA you support increased oil and gas production and the use of hydraulic fracturing,"
"The Industrial Commission and the Department of Mineral Resources have made it no secret that we don't think the EPA should regulate hydraulic fracturing. This is a way for the average citizen of North Dakota, if they feel that way or if they feel the opposite way, to voice their opinions to EPA," Helms said.
He said it is appropriate for the state to assist citizens who wish to make public comments to a regulatory agency. The closest public hearing was in Denver, and information from the EPA about how people can comment hasn't been readily available, he said. Had the EPA set up a way to submit comments, the department would have included that information on its Web site, he said.
The EPA Web site lists an address and e-mail for comments but indicates that the comment period ended Sept. 30. Phone calls to the EPA were not returned Friday, although the agency confirmed by e-mail that the comment period has closed. The EPA expects to initiate the study in early 2011 and to have the initial study results available by late 2012.
The EPA is reviewing hydraulic fracturing because of complaints about contaminated drinking water. DRC states that the EPA could revise a 2005 law exempting oil and gas companies from reporting the content of fracturing fluids to federal agencies. It states the fluids generally contain mostly water but also toxic chemicals such as benzene and toluene.
North Dakota experienced a spill of fracturing fluids Sept. 1 near Killdeer.
"A spill already happened, and it can happen again. Hydraulic fracturing needs to be closely monitored," Roger Brenna of New Town, a DRC member, said in a prepared statement. "We need to know what's in it so we can be safe and so we can protect our land and our livestock."
Helms said companies are required under the Community Right to Know Act to provide information about chemical content when incidents occur. The state was able to obtain the information in responding to the Killdeer spill.
Regulating hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act as well would not make more information available, but it would require that information accessible at the well site also be posted on a Web site, he said.
"How useful that information would be is a big question in my mind," Helms said.