Lawmakers discuss oil impact fund

BISMARCK—North Dakota lawmakers agreed Wednesday that more money should go into an impact fund to help the state’s oil-producing counties.

Just how much more is still being determined, however.

The legislative Energy Development and Transmission Committee reviewed a bill draft that would make changes to the Oil and Gas Impact Fund.

This fund receives money from oil tax revenue and now has an $8 million cap per biennium.

Money goes to political subdivisions negatively impacted by oil and gas activity. Most of the funding is used for infrastructure repair and improvement projects.

The Energy Development Impact Office received $31.9 million in grant requests this year for the $4 million available. This year, 290 grants were awarded to 266 political subdivisions.

The bill draft presented to lawmakers has the eight of $8 million crossed out, with a blank still needing to be filled with a new dollar amount

Sen. George Nodland, R-Dickinson, supports increasing the amount.

“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” he said. “These smaller towns and counties have had tremendous problems and are actually being overwhelmed with issues.”

Sen. Bob Horne, D-Minot, said the bill is a biennium behind where the state should have been.

“I’m glad to see this brought forward,” he said. “It’s certainly needed.”

But when it came to filling in the blank, lawmakers weren’t sure how to fill it Wednesday.

Committee Chairman Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, asked Commerce Commissioner Shane Goettle to provide a proposed dollar amount at the committee’s September meeting.

The proposed legislation suggests a few other changes as well. One would allow impact grants to be used for long-term planning and engineering studies associated with road infrastructure, water, sewer, housing, local services and other essential needs impacted by oil and gas development.

Another change would have the Board of University and School Lands issue the grants. Right now, the state’s energy development impact director does this.

But if the impact fund is increased, lawmakers may want more than one person involved with determining how money is allocated, Goettle said.

Wardner said it may also be a good idea to include representatives from the oil-producing counties in the process.

The committee will discuss the issue further at its September meeting.