By Nick Smith, The Bismarck Tribune
No drilling permit applications have been submitted to the state since a policy intended to protect sensitive areas from energy development took effect May 1.
But state officials say it’s a matter of time before operators begin submitting applications to drill on private land within the buffer zones created by the policy around 18 places considered worthy of protection.
Wayde Schafer, a spokesman for the Sierra Club of North Dakota, said he doesn’t think the policy will stop producers from applying for drilling permits.
“I think it’s kind of a coincidence,” Schafer said of the lack of applications so far. “The longer we hold off, the better it is, I guess.”
The policy was approved in March after a public comment period that drew more than 500 comments. Among the places included for special protection are Lake Sakakawea, the Elkhorn Ranch and the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield State Historic Site.
The policy calls for buffer zones from one-half mile to a maximum of two miles, and it would require an extensive mitigation plan by producers looking to drill in the sensitive areas.
Schafer said once an application is submitted, the strength of the policy will be tested.
“We would know if the companies will act in good faith,” he said.
The Department of Mineral Resources has five calendar days after an application to drill in the buffer zones is submitted to post the public information as part of its daily activity report online.
A designated person would gather comments on proposals to drill in the sensitive areas and, after 10 days, would report back to the Industrial Commission and Department of Mineral Resources.
Department of Mineral Resources spokeswoman Alison Ritter said she was surprised the department hasn’t dealt any applications since the policy took effect. She said the policy and the maps of the sites and the buffer zones are posted on the Industrial Commission website,www.nd.gov/ndic .
“The maps are available, so it’s kind of known to operators,” Ritter said. “(But) there probably will be a point where an operator files an application.”
Ritter said applications are checked against a query system and double-checked on maps to ensure that an application within the buffer zone doesn’t fall between the cracks. She said work has been done to ensure staff can efficiently review such permits once they are submitted.
The openness of the process should help in the permitting process in the long run, she said.
“It gives the public an opportunity to comment on a particular area,” Ritter said.
Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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