BISMARCKâ€”North Dakota is going on the defense to protect the stateâ€™s oil industry.
A committee of state lawmakers unanimously approved a bill Thursday that declares that hydraulic fracturing is an acceptable recovery process in North Dakota.
Lawmakers feel itâ€™s important to have a defensive measure in case there are problems down the road with the Environmental Protection Agency or another agency, said Rep. Duane DeKrey, R-Pettibone.
â€œThe purpose of this bill is to have this in our Century Code that the people of North Dakota are comfortable with hydraulic fracturing,â€ said DeKrey, the primary bill sponsor.
About 95 percent of the wells drilled in North Dakota right now use hydraulic fracturing, said Lynn Helms, director of the stateâ€™s Department of Mineral Resources.
â€œAny attempt to stop or declare a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing would be devastating to our economy and to the economy of the oil and gas industry,â€ he said.
DeKrey said heâ€™s heard rumblings that his bill is trying to get around regulations. The bill â€œin no wayâ€ prevents any agencies in North Dakota from regulating the oil and gas industry nor does it change what theyâ€™re doing now, he said.
â€œItâ€™s just a statement of support by the people of North Dakota for hydraulic fracturing out in the western part of the state,â€ he said.
Environmentalists and the EPA want more information and tighter regulation on hydraulic fracturing, which has the oil industry and North Dakota officials concerned.
Hydraulic fracturing is the process of creating fractures in shale rock formations through the high-pressure injection of fluids deep underground, allowing more oil and gas to flow out of the formation.
Industry officials insist the process is environmentally sound. Some environmentalists, however, fault oil and gas companies for not fully disclosing chemicals used in fracking, and they raise questions about its potential impact on water supplies.
Mike McEnroe of the North Dakota Chapter of the Wildlife Society was the lone person to oppose the bill at Thursdayâ€™s hearing.
â€œLargely because it seems to codify a contemporary opinion,â€ he said. â€œFracking is already acceptable in North Dakota. Itâ€™s been done. So do we have to codify whatâ€™s already been done?â€
The chapter doesnâ€™t oppose the oil and gas industry, energy development or fracking. However, it doesnâ€™t see how the industry is affected one way or another by the bill, he said.
Lawmakers felt otherwise. The bill now moves to the full House with a do-pass recommendation.Â
—Grand Forks Herald reporter Chuck Haga contributed to this story.