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ND Watchdogs Raise Concerns About COVID Spending for Fracking


Thursday, December 17, 2020   

BISMARCK, N.D. -- COVID-19 relief spending by North Dakota officials is drawing scrutiny.

A pair of watchdogs question why the state is using CARES Act money for fracking grants.

In late October, the state approved $16 million in federal assistance for the oil and gas industry, which ended up receiving grants for the fracking process.

But the Dakota Resource Council and the group North Dakotans For Public Integrity (NDPI) say these grants appear to go against CARES Act guidelines and violate the state constitution.

The organizations sent a letter to a pair of key state agencies and federal officials, citing these legal concerns. NDPI President Dina Butcher said transparency issues are at play.

"It just was problematic for a lot of people who turned to one another and said, 'What's this one about?'" Butcher explained. "We couldn't find the information about to whom these grants were being made and what the process was going to be."

Specifically, she contended the action violates the state constitution's "gift" clause.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission received the letter. Gov. Doug Burgum is on the commission, and a spokesman referred to comments made during the panel's meeting this week.

Burgum resisted claims that these grants were "gifts" to the industry. And the budget director previously said the Act's guidelines were met because producers have been negatively impacted by the crisis.

At the time the spending was approved, state officials noted it would create needed jobs within the industry.

Lisa DeVille, a Dakota Resource Council board member representing group affiliate Fort Berthold Power, said that money could have been better spent on tribal members in need.

"This CARES Act money could have been used for my community," DeVille asserted. "It could have been used for other tribal communities for fuel assistance and social services."

She added in her community, they're constructing a new fire and emergency medical services building to help respond to more calls associated with the Bakken oil and gas development.

But she noted tax revenue for the project has stalled, putting her residents and first responders in a tougher situation to deal with the effects from the North Dakota oil boom.

Meanwhile, the state said it will honor information requests made by the groups.

CARES Act spending scrutiny has come up in other states such as Iowa, where money was diverted to technology projects.

Disclosure: Dakota Resource Council contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, and Rural/Farming. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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