U.S. House challenger Rick Berg was in Grand Forks Friday afternoon, one of his stops on the last day of his “North Dakota Way” tour. He stopped by the Herald to sit down for an hour of questions and discussion with the Herald editorial board – and, like most North Dakota media outlets, we wanted him to explain his proposal on Wednesday a bit more.
Berg had suggested drilling for oil underneath federal lands, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota, as a way of coming up with a long-term funding solution for Social Security. We had him explain that a bit more – and asked him point blank if he wanted to see drill rigs go up on the park. Here’s part of a story I wrote about our meeting – notice that Gov. John Hoeven and incumbent Rep. Earl Pomeroy weighed in on Berg’s proposal.
The article will be in Saturday’s Herald and will also include why Berg thinks health care reform should be repealed and what he thinks should be done to secure a long-term future for the Grand Forks Air Force Base.
Drilling oil underneath federal land could provide a long-term funding solution for Social Security, Republican U.S. House candidate Rick Berg said, but he doesnâ€™t support drilling on Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota.
In a Friday meeting with the Heraldâ€™s editorial board, Berg clarified comments he made earlier in the week.
Berg said itâ€™s a big concern right now because he believes Social Securityâ€™s funding crisis is â€œmore serious than itâ€™s being played outâ€ with the countryâ€™s true unemployment rate probably hovering at about 15 percent.
That means there are not enough payroll taxes coming into the system, he said. Drilling for oil and other minerals on federal land could help that shortage, Berg said, because the federal government is the largest mineral owner in the country.
â€œOne thought was, well, maybe if the federal government would increase its permitting and take that asset that theyâ€™ve got as minerals now, shift that asset to shore up Social Security, it would make sense to do that,â€ he said.
Berg serves on the board of directors of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation and said he wasnâ€™t implying in his earlier comments that there should be drilling on the national park.
â€œBut with the technology weâ€™ve got with horizontal drilling, thereâ€™s a potential to go under some of those federal lands,â€ he said.
Don Larson, a spokesman for Republican U.S. Senate candidate and North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, said Hoeven â€œdoesnâ€™t support drilling our national parks.â€ But he supports drilling underneath federally managed lands that arenâ€™t part of the parks system, including the Dakota Prairie National Grasslands in western North Dakota.
â€œHe supports that as well as looking for federal leases offshore where we can do drilling as long as itâ€™s in an environmentally friendly and safe manner,â€ Larson said.
Incumbent Democratic-NPL Rep. Earl Pomeroy said Berg has made statements for months about drilling in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and â€œis now trying to run awayâ€ from those comments. Even with horizontal drilling, Pomeroy said, itâ€™s not possible to get the oil underneath the park â€œwithout seeing any signs of the drilling activity.â€
He said Bergâ€™s comments about Social Security exaggerate current estimates that the programâ€™s benefits can be paid until 2037 without any changes â€” after which payroll taxes would be enough to pay 75 percent of benefits.
â€œItâ€™s pretty clear that these things have not been clearly thought through and Rick Berg needs to stop playing games with Social Security,â€ Pomeroy said. â€œItâ€™s just way too important.â€