BIG FISH SWALLOW SMALLER FISH Harold Hamm’s Continental Resources was the biggest oil producer in ND. No. 2 producer Whiting Petroleum has purchased Kodiak Oil & Gas and replaced Continental in the No. 1 spot. In turn, New York hedge fund investor John Paulson increased his position in Whiting to become its largest shareholder. The prices of oil producers' shares have dropped recently, some as much as 50 percent, and we are in a period of opportunistic investment, where the strong buy the weak. In 2007, Paulson made billions by betting against the subprime mortgage market.
SAFER THAN RAIL The proposed KeystoneXL pipeline, which adjoins the southwest corner of ND, will carry up to 830,000 barrels of oil a day, but most of it will be oil from Canada’s tar sands. Only 100,000 barrels would come from ND. The company behind Keystone is not sitting still -- TransCanada is asking for a permit to build a $600 million, 200-mile pipeline to take ND oil north to join a pipeline to Canada’s east coast. The proposed Upland Pipeline will have a capacity of 300,000 barrels a day.
THAT WAS A LITTLE CARELESS Late last year CHS Inc. announced it would proceed with a $3 billion fertilizer plant near Jamestown. One little detail was not settled -- they hadn’t arranged a water source for a plant that uses 4,000 to 5,000 gallons per minute. CHS has approached Bismarck about purchasing Missouri River water and pumping it to Spiritwood (over 100 miles).
BUM RAP Bismarck was shocked to see itself included among “Cities Where Crime Is Soaring” on national media. The city was not aware of a major crime increase. It turned out the reported increase was the result of a misleading comparison. In 2009, only Burleigh (Bismarck) and Morton (Mandan) counties were included in the Bismarck metropolitan statistical area (MSA). In 2013, Sioux and Oliver counties were added to the Bismarck MSA. Sioux County (Standing Rock Reservation), in particular, has a high crime rate, so the comparison was distorted.
DON’T WASTE OUR TIME AND MONEY The board of the NDSU Foundation suspects they have a problem (yet undefined) at the foundation. They have hired a Minneapolis law firm to snoop around. That’s not enough for the state Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee -- they have ordered a performance audit of the NDSU Foundation as well as those at UND and Dickinson State. Performance audits are not like financial audits, the former are subjective efforts to measure efficiency and effectiveness. The executive committee of the NDSU Foundation and NDSU President Dean Bresciani call the performance audit a costly time waster.
THE TRICKY DEVILS WILL FIND A WAY A ND bill passed two years ago created a state-funded matching grant program to spur donations for student scholarships “dedicated exclusively to the advancement of academics.” Using tortured reasoning, NDSU used the program to create six athletic scholarships. Their explanation -- the athletes are students, too. NDSU’s recent history suggests otherwise.
HELP WANTED Enrollment in central ND schools is steadily declining. State support is determined by the number of students and as enrollment declines so does support. Schools with declining enrollments lose revenue, but may not have corresponding decreases in expenses. A Jamestown Sun article gave Carrington as an example. The school district has around 500 students and loses about ten students each year. Chet Pollert, a state representative from Carrington, sponsored a bill to subsidize mid-size schools that have declining enrollments. His and similar bills failed.
KIRSTEN BAESLER is ND’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. She was briefly jailed for domestic violence, that is, she is charged with beating up her 49-year-old boyfriend. A conviction could lead to jail time and fines. While her guilt is yet to be determined, Baesler has a history of domestic incidents. The charges are serious in any event, but are particularly sensitive when the person charged is an education leader.
HE WAS NOT THE PROBLEM The president of scandal-plagued Dickinson State University is retiring. It’s important to note that D.C. Coston did not cause DSU’s problems, he was a large part of the solution. The list of problems, shocking by any standard, seemed especially out of context for ND. Coston was drafted from NDSU and salvaged DSU’s accreditation.
DON’T LOOK NOW, but a Minneapolis law firm is gobbling up federal prosecutors in the Dakotas. Last week, I mentioned that U.S. Attorney for ND Tim Purdon was resigning to establish a ND office for a national law firm. This week there was an almost identical announcement of the resignation of Brendon Johnson, U.S. Attorney for SD. Both men will join Robins Kaplan, a law firm based in Minneapolis.
FOOD STAMPS -- who gets them? The percentage of Nodaks receiving food stamps (7%) is second lowest in the nation. Wyoming (6%) is lowest. Utah, New Hampshire and Nebraska round out the five lowest. Minnesota’s rate is 10%, South Dakota and Montana are 12%. Mississippi, the usual suspect, is highest (22%), followed closely by the District of Columbia. One surprise, Oregon (20%), usually thought to be progressive and prosperous, is one of the five highest states. The national average settles out at about 15%.
AN ALTERNATIVE TO NO CARE Two-thirds of of North Dakota’s dentists are located in the four largest counties. That leaves the other 49 counties struggling for access to dental care. The foregoing was testimony before a state senate committee considering a bill to allow midlevel dental hygienists to perform routine dental procedures. A GF Herald editorial said research supports the reform and recommended “licensing advanced practice dental hygienists and letting science carry the day.”
HIGH-WATER MARK The term “100-year flood” gets tossed around in discussions of floods in Fargo. Technically, it’s a misnomer, the proper term is “a 1-percent flood,” that is, every year there is a 1 percent chance such a flood will occur. A 1-percent flood in Fargo will crest at 41.1 feet, a bit higher than the 40.8 level reached in the 2009 flood.
SORRY, SHELTON I’m afraid professor emeritus Shelton Gunaratne of Moorhead will not be elected Sportsman of the Year. In a letter to the Forum he wrote, “I favor the withdrawal of all laws permitting the hunting of animals for carnivorous indulgence. Hunting seasons are an anachronism in this enlightened era.” Shelton’s thoughts were a reaction to the great jackrabbit invasion in south Fargo. He urged the Forum to practice “mindful journalism embodying Buddhist principles.”
FIGHTING RADICALIZATION “No region has been more vulnerable to seductive recruiting techniques than Minnesota, which has been fighting radicalization for a decade, since al-Shabab began targeting the large Somali-American population there.” -- From a Yahoo News article about Islamic terrorism. One response by the federal government is a new strategy to establish “community-led intervention teams” in the Twin Cities to deal with suspicions of radicalization without involving police. While generally welcome in the Somali community, the program has encountered skepticism, a Muslim leader asked “Could this program be a Trojan horse for community surveillance?” Some law enforcement figures believe it is a bad idea to combine counterterror goals and government outreach.
THE TWIN CITIES were the centerpiece for the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. The StarTribune reported Minnesota was the focus “because of its large Somali population, its innovative approach and the number of would-be terrorists recruited from the state.” A division developed between Somalis at the conference -- some urging the new strategies be given a chance, while others seeing them as a “platform for surveillance” or a plan to make mosques “places of spying.”
HOW SWEET Police peeked into a Valentine’s Day box in Williston and found chocolates, teddy bears, and . . . two handguns. They arrested three people and confiscated 11 pounds of meth, three handguns and $20,000 in cash. This is believed to be one of the largest seizures in state history.
DAKTOIDS: ND has a high school graduation rate of 88%; the comparable national rate is 81% and Minnesota has an 80% rate.