Oil, outdoors groups praise cooperation

MEDORA, N.D. – A wildlife conservationist and an oil company representative shared a stage here Wednesday during the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s annual meeting.

At first glance the two may seem to be on opposite sides, but the oil industry and outdoor groups have a lot in common, said Dave Searle, manager of government affairs for Marathon Oil.

“In many cases the sporting groups are us,” Searle said after nearly everyone in the audience raised their hand to indicate they love hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.

Terry Fleck, chairman of the North Dakota Energy Forum, helped bring oil companies together with sporting and conservation groups to form the Sporting and Oil Industry Forum. The groups have held three meetings this year with representation from about a dozen oil companies and several wildlife groups.

“I don’t know of any other state where the sporting groups have been willing to sit down and work with the industry,” Fleck said.

The group is collaborating with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and North Dakota Game and Fish to develop best management practices to guide oil and gas operators in protecting habitat. They’re also working on a GIS management tool that will allow operators to easily determine what habitat exists in a specific area and identify species of concern they should be aware of.

Rod Gilmore, regional director for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said the oil industry has been receptive to working together and he hopes the partnership will help the group expand its presence in North Dakota.

“We believe in multiple use of lands,” Gilmore said. “You can still protect it and still be able to utilize it.”

Another six oil companies asked to participate after hearing the panel discussion, Fleck said.

More than 500 people are attending the council’s annual meeting in Medora, the organization’s largest meeting to date.

At the start of the meeting, the Petroleum Council announced a $50,000 donation to the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation that will launch a $500,000 fundraising campaign for the foundation.

Randy Hatzenbuhler, president of the foundation, said there’s a misperception that oil and gas development and tourism at odds, but the industry has been a great partner.

“They’ve been our customers,” Hatzenbuhler said.

The donation will be used toward the Rough Riders Hotel, a historic inn built in 1884, to help pay off major renovations to the facility in 2008.

Hatzenbuhler said he’s heard new workers to the state excited about what Medora has to offer, including the Bully Pulpit Golf Course. That’s important for the oil industry as it recruits new workers and their families to move to North Dakota, Hatzenbuhler said.

“This is a great place, not just a great paycheck,” Hatzenbuhler said. “You need to have both.”

Participants also heard from city, school, hospital and law enforcement leaders about community challenges in the Bakken. State legislative leaders provided a legislative outlook for the next session related to oil development.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who received a standing ovation after speaking, said he has proposed $2.5 billion for special infrastructure needs. Dalrymple said the challenges will continue, but he’s starting to hear from local officials that they’re seeing some progress.

“We’re beginning to hear the first clues that we’re catching up with things,” Dalrymple said.

The Petroleum Council also announced that next year’s annual meeting will be at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.

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