FARGO – The U.S. House candidates are battling on North Dakota newspapers’ opinion pages over Republican challenger Rick Berg’s proposal to fund Social Security through oil drilling on federal land.
Last week, Berg had an opinion column clarifying his proposal once again, after he drew heat for saying his plan would include the possibility of drilling underneath Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota.
Here is Berg’s column. The pitch he makes seems to continue toeing the fine line between backing off from his original statements and defending his plan.
By: State Rep. Rick Berg, INFORUM
In North Dakota, we keep our word. We live within our means, we use what we have to the fullest potential, and we do all this without taking unnecessary risk.
Last week, it was announced that for the first time since 1983, Social Security will pay out $41 billion more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes. Washington politicians now have us at risk of breaking a promise to our seniors. The Social Security system, like most Washington-run programs, is broken.
The politicians in Washington have kicked this can down the road long enough. They are simultaneously passing more and more debt to our children and not addressing the long-term stability of Social Security for our elderly. It’s time we step up and start a dialogue with new ideas to fix the problem. We made a promise to our seniors, and we must keep that promise.
On this issue, I have said time and again that the No. 1 thing we can do to help Social Security, without reducing benefits or privatizing the system, is to get more people back to work and paying into the system. I have also said that I support extracting more oil and natural gas from federal land and using those revenues to shore up Social Security.
I am open to the idea of more fully utilizing federal land by permitting more gas and oil production on that land. Extracting minerals from this land is under way; my suggestion simply accelerates development in an environmentally sound manner. I am also in favor of charging fair market price for the leases and using that revenue to bolster Social Security.
The Bureau of Land Management manages 700 million acres (roughly 30 percent of the United States) of subsurface mineral estate underlying federal, state and private lands. There is a huge opportunity to take those mineral assets, which are on the federal government’s balance sheet, and shift some to Social Security by extracting the oil and gas. It would be another tool to fix Social Security without new massive, job-killing taxes or benefits reductions. This idea will also reduce our dependence on foreign energy, stimulate the economy and create jobs.
To solve our nation’s problems, we must encourage and discuss ideas. My thought centers on non-park federal land for this, not on entering a park (the great majority of federally controlled land is not in national parks). My intention is to use our nation’s vast federal land areas and avoid anything that negatively impacts the scenic beauty or environment of our national parks or wilderness.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a place of historic importance and majestic beauty. I grew up in western North Dakota, I am a volunteer member on the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, and I would never support entering the park to drill or risk impacting scenic beauty or environment by drilling too near it. I would only consider national park resources if there was a way to do it without entering the park, by using technology such as horizontal drilling to go under it from well outside the park boundaries, and only if it would in no way affect the park or viewshed.
We must keep our word to our seniors. We must live within our means and use what we have to the fullest potential, and we can do all this without taking unnecessary risk. It’s how we do things in North Dakota.
State Rep. Berg, R-Fargo, is the Republican candidate
for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Now, today, Democratic-NPL incumbent Earl Pomeroy offers a rebuttal – describing his own stance and again condeming Berg for his original statements.
Here is Pomeroy’s column. As I indicated previously, however, Pomeroy’s claim that Berg has been discussing “for months” the national parks angle of his proposal is incorrect.
By: Rep. Earl Pomeroy, INFORUM
If there’s one thing that is not lacking in the race for the U.S. House this year, it’s a clear contrast between my opponent and me.
Rick Berg, R-Fargo, and I both have records. They show very clearly how we differ on the issues.
For example, I have always opposed anything that would add risk to the Social Security benefits our seniors depend on. My opponent voted in favor of a plan to divert guaranteed benefits to private accounts. He has also advocated allowing banks to sell North Dakotans’ personal financial information without permission. I disagree strongly and could never support such a thing.
Berg’s recent commentary (Sept. 20 Forum) about his proposal to exploit the oil reserves in Theodore Roosevelt National Park demonstrates another strong contrast between us.
My opponent and I agree that we should drill for oil in our national grasslands. In fact, there is already substantial development on the grasslands, and I have worked to expand it.
Where we part ways is the idea Berg has been proposing for months: to drill in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. When news of his idea attracted objections from all corners of our state, he quickly backtracked and insisted he would drill the park’s oil while keeping the rigs just outside the park.
Either way, this stunningly bad idea would fail to produce significant amounts of oil but devastate our national park and our tourism industry. It also illustrates a fundamental lack of understanding of our state’s oil industry on the part of my opponent.
The oil boom we are experiencing in western North Dakota has been a blessing for our state, and we are all grateful. As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, I have fought back efforts – mostly from members of my own party – to scale back tax incentives that are critical to the current and future success of our Bakken development efforts.
But no one who has spent time in oil country would pretend that oil development does not have an impact on the land and the community. Drilling, by its nature, has a significant impact on the land around it. Heavy trucks and equipment are hauled in, and oil and other waste products are trucked out.
It’s a tradeoff for an industry that is generating significant jobs and tax revenue for our state, but a national park is no place to do it.
The drilling rigs that are used in western North Dakota drill about two miles underground and another two miles horizontally. It is amazing technology, but it just couldn’t be used to drill the park without being in earshot and sight of tourists. Visitors would be unhappy to fight their way through semi traffic only to find themselves in a park surrounded by a ring of oil rigs.
I can only chalk up Berg’s suggestion that this activity would have no impact on the park to a lack of understanding of our oil industry – both in the way horizontal drilling works and in the impact it has on the surrounding region.
Maybe that lack of understanding is the reason he voted against legislation that would have helped address the safety and infrastructure concerns of families in oil country.
Oil activity has been a blessing to North Dakota. But we have plenty of land we can develop in the Bakken. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one small place that should remain pristine.
Rep. Pomeroy, D-N.D., is seeking a 10th term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
As expected, this topic has become a campaign issue that continues to be debated between Berg and Pomeroy. What are your thoughts on their arguments and the positions they take?