Friday, 9 March 2012
Dialog Good Start for The Bakken
I attended a very interesting session this week called the Sporting and Oil Industry Forum. The purpose of the meeting was to establish a dialog between North Dakota’s oil and gas industry and the State’s conservation leaders. Hunters and fisherman were represented by virtually all of the conservation/hunting groups. I was representing Delta. Pheasants Forever, DU, Mule Deer Foundation, NWTF, RMEF, Audubon and several others were there as well.
North Dakota, long the butt of countless jokes and only in the news when 14 foot drifts cover our highways or someone dies of lutefisk poisoning, finds itself in the rare position of being newsworthy. Unemployment is staggeringly low, the agricultural economy is strong and oil and gas development is proceeding at a frantic pace. North Dakota is well endowed with great duck and other habitat. It has wonderfully nice people. It is also blessed with remarkable resources. Coal, a long-term staple in the State is now joined by wind development and the emergence of the Bakken formation, one of the largest domestic sources of oil and natural gas. North Dakota news outlets refer to the Bakken as the American Saudi Arabia. The people of North Dakota are movin’ on up.
Yet with any such development, there are pains. Natural resources and the wild places where we hunt and fish are put under new pressures I recognize the need for energy independence as much as anyone (recent surging gas prices illustrate the need if we needed yet another illustration), but I do have concern for the birds we love and the places they rely on. There are implications for a beautifully wild and wonderful landscape.
I love the grasslands and potholes of northwestern North Dakota where I gunned bluebills and saw my first whooping crane. What was a wild place just 8 years ago, is a bustling industrial scene, a far cry from when one could wander the prairie for days with nary a rusty pick-up to greet you.
The current reality is that the Bakken will be developed to the extent that our technology allows us to mine oil two miles below the prairie. The goal of the forum this week was to bring industry and conservation leaders together, to ensure that development does not come at the expense of these resources. If we work in a frank, scientifically sound and collegial manner, we can put mechanisms in place to ensure we meet our energy needs as well as provide for the habitat, fish and game that are so precious.
I find solace in the fact that we can have this dialog. It gives us a chance to chart a brighter future and avoid the acrimony and damage of past mistakes. I am hopeful that discussions between conservation and energy on the front end of development can alleviate long-term consequences for natural resources. I am emboldened by the simple fact hunters, conservationists and industry leaders are willing, able and ready to work together. These are positives steps indeed and set the table for fruitful work in the future.
I look forward to representing you as this working group moves ahead. Ducks and duck hunters will have a voice on this issue. I will keep you apprised of what happens next and see if the outcomes are consistent with my current enthusiasm. We will see if we can meet the needs of energy development and maintain large fall flights of ducks and abundance of other critters. A tall task for sure, but one that took a large step forward this week as people cared enough to work together to make a difference.