Here's how North Dakota plans to spend $1.25 billion in federal COVID relief — no, it's not on public health
North Dakota got $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief through the CARES Act—money that's supposed to go to "necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019." Somehow, $16 million in fracking grants is getting wedged into that category.
The fracking money, which is to go toward new oil wells at $200,000 a pop, is being repurposed from an earlier plan to plug and clean up abandoned well sites. That measure was intended to support between 300 and 550 jobs in the oil industry while reclaiming land for agricultural use, and the state categorized it as small business relief. The $66.7 million for that project was not even $20 million less than the state's CARES Act spending on public health. The $16 million now intended for fracking is more than six times the amount the state dedicated to rental assistance, or just under half the amount the state spent on community services like child care and meal services.
North Dakota officials say they still plan to finish the well-plugging project, but that as it needs to halt for the winter when the ground freezes, subsidizing new oil wells will be the way to support jobs. Or, in translation, give a handout to the oil industry.
New well opening hasn't recently kept up with the 70 new wells a month it takes to maintain North Dakota's oil production rate, but 846 wells are sitting there, drilled and not fracked—hence the fracking subsidy. Get those wells open and protect North Dakota's main industry rather than its people.
"To take this money and use it to frack new wells is completely against the intention of what this money is supposed to be used for, which is to clean up a problem predating the Bakken," Dakota Resource Council Executive Director Scott Skokos told The Bismarck Tribune. "If they are going to do this, it represents essentially a large bailout to the oil industry that we as an organization would oppose."