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$16 million in unspent CARES Act money could be given to oil companies

Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 5:00 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - CARES Act money needs to be spent by Dec. 30. But many state agencies still have a lot of funds left over.

More than $221 million, that’s how much CARES Act money is going unspent by 32 state agencies. Now, the Emergency Commission is set to decide on where that money will end up.

$1.25 billion was given to North Dakota by the federal government, but many state agencies are returning more than $221 million, or asking for its reallocation.

“No we did not expect it to be that high, so that was surprising. But agencies were realistic about what they could get done,” said Office of Management and Budget Director Joe Morrissette. One of those agencies, the Industrial Commission, was given $66 million to plug and reclaim orphaned wells. And with $16 million left over, some lawmakers think the money could be better spent elsewhere amidst the pandemic.

“Well, I think that’s a misuse of the dollars. There are many many small businesses in North Dakota that need this money,” said Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo.

With winter weather closing in, Department of Mineral Resources leaders said they’ve only reclaimed half of the wells they sought out to.

“We’re at full workforce now, but really only got there as of last week,” said Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms.

Helms said their new plan would be to use the CARES Act dollars as grants to oil companies. He said up to $200,000 would be provided for every drilled, uncompleted well that is completed between now and Dec. 30.

“The company I talked to yesterday, they were planning nine wells in June of next year, and they said, ‘well, yeah we can accelerate those completions into November or December,’” said Helms.

He added this would help stabilize production and oil revenues and said he hopes the remaining wells will be reclaimed by fall of next year. Morrissette said that, unlike the Industrial Commission, the majority of state agencies are simply returning the funds they can’t use in time. He said most remaining CARES Act funding will be reallocated to support K-12 schools, COVID-19 research, and hospitals.

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