North Dakota, Minnesota Fracking Battle Contains 'Obamacare' Irony

12/08/2011 01:55 pm ET | Updated Dec 08, 2011

Last month, the Star Tribune reported that "North Dakota and some of the state's major energy interests [had] filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to overturn a 2007 Minnesota law that restricts power companies from importing electricity from new coal-fired power plants in other states." At issue is the Bakken oil shale formation -- which contains a promising supply of obtainable energy -- as well as other substantial deposits of lignite coal. North Dakota wants to release the Bakken, frack the bejeezus out of the formation, mine the lignite, and sell as much job-creating energy to neighboring states as possible. Minnesota's laws dampen those prospects, and in turn, present an impediment to job growth in North Dakota. (Let's recall that like Texas, the Roughrider State is touted with having an energy industry-related "jobs miracle.")

It's a story with layers, and over at the Awl, Abe Sauer goes into great detail describing the extent to which this interstate conflict now "exemplifies how North Dakota is slowly becoming a proxy petrostate base of operations for the energy industry to launch a war against federal regulation." He kicks things off by noting an interesting irony between the way this energy lawsuit is being framed and the way North Dakota's conservative attorney general is going after the Affordable Care Act:

North Dakota is suing Minnesota, alleging the Land of 10,000 Lakes is discriminating against it because it is black. Lignite black. Lignite coal black. The lawsuit contends that the Next Generation Energy Act—a law signed in 2007 by Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, which limits the amount of power Minnesota utilities can acquire from new fossil-fuel plants—violates the commerce clause of the Constitution. The federal rules, the suit argues, should force Minnesota to buy more of North Dakota's coal-fired power. The EPA, the suit argues, is the only authority whose regulations should matter.

Most experts have scoffed at the suit. But it's made all the more bizarre by the fact that participant North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is also currently party to the legal challenge to "Obamacare," which accuses the feds of attempting to "usurp the general police power reserved to the States."

It's almost as if powerful, moneyed interests can get partisan attorneys general arguing out of both sides of their mouths, or something?

But this is just the beginning of a deeper exploration of this issue. Want to know what the Bakken formation looks like from space? Spoiler alert: it sort of looks like Minneapolis! But the most fascinating part of the story is the extent to which the PR effort taking place in North Dakota on behalf of the energy industry reminds you of how soldiers in Iraq tried to win the "hearts and minds" of locals by giving them candy and gifts. Per Sauer:

Just a month ago at an oil conference in Houston, one presenter called pushback against the industry "an insurgency." He went on to recommend that PR experts in the industry make it a top priority to download the Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency manual, as "there are a lot of good lessons in there."

Hello!

READ THE WHOLE THING:
North Dakota: The Rise of an American Petrostate [The Awl]

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