Supporting the Work of Covenant Consulting

From the Executive Director

On May 2, 2017 Covenant Consulting Group (CCG) released the Badlands Advisory Group’s Action Plan, the second phase of CCG’s effort to address impacts of oil and gas development in the Badlands.

BCA helped breathe this undertaking into being. We have been associated with the effort since its inception. We still are.

It is important that North Dakotans read the reports coming out of Covenant Consulting Group and sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund. They may be found here:

Badlands Spring Storm by Rich Brauhn

The opening phase produced a Stakeholder Assessment of the North Dakota Badlands and Little Missouri River Valley – a white paper released in August 2016 based on 71 interviews with four stakeholder groups:  ranchers, the oil industry, government at all levels and conservation/wildlife/recreation.

The aim of the Assessment was to determine how significantly-invested stakeholders viewed current oil and gas development in western North Dakota, and with specific focus on the ND Badlands.  It was determined all stakeholder groups believed that we could and should be doing much better than we are.

World Wildlife Fund provided majority funding with sizable help from the USFS Dakota Prairie Grasslands and additional support from Logging Camp Ranch (John and Jennifer Hanson), the ND Wildlife Federation, the ND Natural Resources Trust and Badlands Conservation Alliance.

Team members for the Stakeholder Assessment with CCG’s Rod Backman at the helm included:

  • Jim Hauge - a longtime farmer, rancher, and agricultural consultant.
  • Robert Harms - an attorney who has worked extensively with and for the oil industry.
  • Randy Kreil - former Wildlife Division Chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
  • David Pieper - former Dakota Prairie Grasslands Supervisor for the US Forest Service.
  • Ted Hawn - former District Conservationist with the US Department of Agriculture’s NaturalResources Conservation Service.

The analysis arrived at three strategies for future action:

  1. A collaborative process including all parties
  2. Regulatory and statutory changes
  3. A landscape pilot project that includes all parties

Upon completion of the Stakeholder Assessment, CCG and World Wildlife Fund moved forward.  A Badlands Advisory Group (BAG) was formed to help shape the process of turning Stakeholder Assessment findings into quantifiable action that would produce results.  Representing the original stakeholder categories, five participants were nominated for their expressed interest in making change.  To quote the BAG Action Plan overview:  “The assessment recommended that committee members have practical experience in oil development, represent various interests in western North Dakota, and take a common-sense approach to “what works and what does not” in their communities of interest.”

BAG members included:

  • Ranching – Gene Veeder, Watford City
  • Oil Industry – Blaine Hoffman, retired from Whiting Oil, Dickinson
  • Conservation – Bill Schaller, retired North Dakota Game and Fish game warden, Killdeer
  • Government (local) – Daryl Dukart, Dunn County Commissioner
  • Government (state) – Vicki Steiner, Legislator for District 37, Dickinson

None of the BAG members are free from a connection with Big Oil.  That can be difficult for a conservationist to swallow.  But, we are not asking for either innocence or ignorance here.  We are seeking solutions.

I have heard criticism of the BAG Action Plan, and rightfully so in BAG’s inclusion of the Corral Creek Project as a success story, which it certainly is not.  Visitors to the Little Missouri State Park within Corral Creek, impacted surface owners, and area royalty owners would have good reason to disagree.

While I am less than excited with some of the language of the BAG report, which relies too heavily on oil industry jargon, their priorities are applaudable; and those priorities are concepts BCA has been advocating for years.

Here is the list copied directly from the BAG Action Plan.

The issues prioritized by BAG were (not in a priority order):

  • Transparency & Communication
  • Wildlife Habitat
  • Reclamation Standards & Education
  • Areas of Interest
  • Best Management Practices
  • Long Term Strategic Planning
  • Environmental Review

Watchdog the effort, yes.  Educate, absolutely.  Protest, where needed.  But BCA must also be ready to participate at every step of the road in any positive way that we can.  This is not a perfect process, but it provides inroads to real change.  And, that is our goal.

Reference to the “pilot project” concept for the Little Missouri River Valley from the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park to the Elkhorn is barely mentioned in the action plan, but it was highlighted in media coverage.  Some have misconstrued this and suggested the area is targeted as a “sacrifice zone.”

I say nay.  There is grave risk to this stretch of the Little Missouri River Valley, yes, but the conclusion of a targeted “sacrifice zone” is wrong.

Spring at the Little Missouri State Park by Rich Brauhn

In monthly hearings of the ND Oil and Gas Division a new producer to the state named NP Resources has repeatedly submitted development applications for leases they hold up and down the Little Missouri River Valley along East River Road, and they appear intent on drilling.  Indeed, they ARE drilling.

In turn, with each such hearing, BCA calls for landscape scale planning using best practices of all kinds and a collaborative process that genuinely involves state and federal agencies, surface owners, mineral owners, the industry and us, the public.  We urge that the applications as stand-alone actions with no consideration for comprehensive planning or cumulative impacts be denied.  When applications directly impact Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Park also testifies at hearing.

Under current circumstances, these wells are going in.  CCG’s efforts may be helpful here and I for one would welcome the help.

Let’s move the Badlands Advisory Group priorities along.  Any necessary adjustments can be made along the way.

Jan Swenson, Executive Director