While North Dakota engages in a gigantic herd immunity experiment (over 1 out of every 600 people in the state tested positive for COVID just yesterday), complete incompetence and Trumpian leadership just makes it all worse. I mean, the state has unused relief funds from the government. What to do with that cash?
North Dakota’s top oil and gas regulator had a problem. With winter bearing down, his department had yet to spend $16 million in federal coronavirus relief funds earmarked for cleaning up abandoned oil and gas well sites across the state, and the arrival of cold weather would halt the work.
If the money wasn’t spent by the end of the year, the state would lose it. So Lynn Helms, director of the state’s Department of Mineral Resources, proposed a different use for the funds: paying oil companies to hydraulically fracture new wells.
The proposal landed in front of state lawmakers on Wednesday during a budget meeting that many members attended remotely, calling in from easy chairs and living rooms because of the state’s surging coronavirus caseload. Despite pleas from some lawmakers that the money would be better spent helping nursing homes safely allow family visits or amplifying contact tracing, the committee approved Helms’ request.
Now North Dakota is poised to provide cash grants of up to $200,000 directly to any oil company that’s ready to get to work.
The state’s oil development is stagnating along with the price of oil, which is too low to spur much fracking activity, and Helms said the grants will change that. They will more than pay for themselves with the additional tax revenues they’ll generate, he said, and will help put back to work hundreds of people who once criss-crossed the western corner of the state, fracking oil wells.
But state Rep. Joshua A. Boschee, a Democrat who voted against the proposal, said, “To divert funds away from addressing the public health needs of the citizens while this virus peaks is irresponsible.”
Have to prioritize after all. Oil companies over people’s lives? Easy call.