Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has kicked off an “infrastructure” week highlighting her work throughout the state to support stronger and safer communities, and Williston Mayor Howard Klug, is among those offering a thanks for those efforts.
“From lifting the decades-old ban on crude oil exports to advocating for our airport and helping us with infrastructure challenges during the boom, Heidi has always been there for the hardworking people of Williston,” Klug is quoted as saying in the Heitkamp campaign release. “And while we continue our work to confront the scourge of human trafficking, Heidi has been lockstep with our community and law enforcement to help keep folks safe. She’s North Dakota through and through – and I’m grateful to have such a thoughtful, common-sense senator serving our state.”
Klug, reached Thursday, said that the quote sent by the Heitkamp campaign should not be considered an endorsement, even though the email’s subject line had described it as praise.
“I will say the same for Kevin (Cramer),” Klug said of Heitkamp’s Republican opponent for the U.S. Senate, adding, “I don’t need to praise anyone for doing their job, but I do want to thank her.”
Klug, a Republican, said he was asked by Heitkamp’s campaign staff if he would provide a quote on the Democratic senator’s work in western North Dakota. He agreed, so long as it did not include any overt campaign endorsement.
Klug said that Heitkamp has always been helpful any time he has called her.
“She’s got on the stick and helped us out,” he said. “I’m not endorsing Heidi, but if they want me to thank her for what she has done, it is the truth. She has been really good for western North Dakota.”
The Heitkamp campaign was seeking to highlight in particular Heitkamp’s work lifting the decades-old oil export ban in 2015. It had been stifling the oil and gas sector, preventing it from finding its best market.
Continental CEO Harold Hamm at the time said America had been held hostage to predatory pricing by OPEC for too long.
“Today, American policymakers have taken a stand against OPEC’s strategy to run down the price of oil and run U.S. independent oil and natural gas producers out of business,” he said then. “Through this historic legislative action, America will reassert our nation’s energy leadership.”
Lifting the ban would set the stage for market recovery, Hamm predicted.
“By mid-2016, we see the beginning of an oversupply correction,” he said. “Production is already falling off, demand is at a record high, and crude oil exports now allow the U.S. oil industry to compete globally.”
His predictions, largely, have panned out. Oil prices today are around $70 a barrel. Continental has already made several overseas sales for Bakken light sweet crude. Hess, another top Bakken producer, has as well.
Heitkamp was instrumental in crafting a compromise deal that both Democrats and Republicans could support, as well as selling the idea across the aisle to members of both parties.
Heitkamp said at the time that she began her efforts with a massive education campaign, to explain to the general public and colleagues why an export ban no longer made any sense.
“If the only place you could market your corn was in the U.S. and people produced a lot of corn, it would drive prices down,” she explained at the time. “It’d also mean you’d stop producing corn.”
She joined Hess and others on national television to talk about the need to lift the ban, and she drew upon studies that looked at the policy in terms of the global energy stage, to help make the case in intellectual circles.
In the end, of course, it took more than just talk to convince lawmakers to vote for lifting the ban.
“At the same time we were doing that, we were literally engaged in a pretty aggressive one-on-one strategy with our Democratic colleagues, trying to bring in industry to talk about the problem and why the policy needed to change,” Heitkamp said then. “All of that really built toward the end of the summer to a conclusion that yes, this is a policy we can change, I get it, but what do I get for it.”
Heitkamp was ready for that, however. She had an answer already waiting in the wings that she was sure her Democrat colleagues would find palatable — renewable tax credits for wind and solar. That ultimately did help to sweeten the deal, but her compromise also included a provision that preserved presidential authority to backtrack on lifting the ban, in case of runaway prices or national security issues.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, was among Republican lawmakers who praised Heitkamp at the time.
“She represented her constituencies — the state of North Dakota, the heart of the Bakken — and took a lot of heat in her caucus. But she stood her ground,” he said.
The wind tax credits were a particular point of pride for Heitkamp. North Dakota is the sixth windiest state in the nation, according to a study by National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Texas is No. 1.
“We’d been pushing very hard to get certainty on wind credits,” Heitkamp said.
Heitkamp also credited the work of oil companies and its workers at the time, in getting the ban lifted.
“The incredible shale revolution really is what drove a lot of this,” Heitkamp said. “Things like what happened in Williston, where there is an abundance of light sweet crude oil without a place to refine it.”