Helms Backs Down From Fracking Moratorium Prediction

Yesterday Lynn Helms, director of the Oil and Gas Division of North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources, sent a chill up the spine of North Dakotans by saying that the EPA could impose a moratorium on fracking which, as any informed observer knows, would all but shut down oil production in the state and leave our government and our economy in a perilous position. “I believe it will be stopped cold for 12 to 24 months. The best case is 15 months and that’s only if we red-lighted everything else and got nothing else done,” Helms told the Bismarck Tribune.

But today Helms is backing away from his comments, saying he made no such prediction:

BISMARCK, ND – Recent comments by Lynn Helms, director of the Oil and Gas Division of North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources, warned of the possibility of a hydraulic fracturing moratorium from the EPA.

The EPA will issue new directives for regulating the process called “fracking” in January of 2012, and Helms believes the federal regulators could put a moratorium on the process until the state’s new rules complying with those directives are completed and approved. “I believe it will be stopped cold for 12 to 24 months. The best case is 15 months and that’s only if we red-lighted everything else and got nothing else done,” Helms told the Bismarck Tribune.

But in a press release, Helms now says that he didn’t intend to make a prediction on the outcome of a federal review of the state’s fracking regulations. “I made no such prediction and have no reasonable basis to make one,” said Helms.

Of course, a spokesman for oil and gas producers says the risk is very real:

But according to Chris Tucker, team lead at Energy In Depth, a coalition of independent oil and gas producers actively involved in shale development, the EPA is aiming at taking over state regulation of fracking. “The threat is real,” he said in an interview today. “I think the EPA has been looking at ND in particular over the last several years.”

Tucker says fracking is nothing new, but that the EPA’s focus on it is. “In the United States we have 1.2 million wells over the last 60 years that have been hydraulically fracked. It’s been regulated very well at the state level. The EPA looked at the growth of shale and said ‘We want to get into that game’.”

I don’t think Helms intended to predict that we’d get stuck with a fracking moratorium. I think he intended to communicate that such a moratorium is very much a possibility.

And in that he’s right.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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