Port: Deleted DMR email accusations seem like a lot of hot air
Recently an attorney with a long history of working for environmental activists has made some very serious allegations against the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.
That state agency, under the purview of the Industrial Commission, is responsible for regulating oil and gas development in our state.
Bismarck attorney Derrick Braaten says the Department has been deleting records including data about oil spills.
“It is illegal,” he told a reporter.
He’s right that it would be a crime if it’s happening. Possibly one as serious as a felony depending on the circumstances.
If important public data has been deleted at the DMR then we should take up our pitchforks and torches and demand answers. Not to mention consequences.
The problem is there doesn’t seem to be any real indication that public access to information is being inhibited in any way.
DMR spokeswoman Alison Ritter acknowledged that emails had been deleted, but only after the pertinent information was filed.
“The Department stands by our statement that even though emails were deleted in accordance with state record retention policies it does not mean the information contained within them was deleted permanently,” she told me. “Necessary information within the email gets transferred into an appropriate database.”
She cited the DMR’s well site database as an example. Each well in North Dakota has its own unique file. The information DMR officials collect about that well – things like complaints or photographs or reports – gets put in that file. A digital version of the file is available online.
Braaten, whose sensational accusations have been bolstered by unfortunately credulous reporting, would have us believe that the DMR is destroying information because they’ve deleted emails. Ritter says that information is maintained, just not in emails.
That makes sense, right? Why on earth would anyone want to keep data scattered across a myriad of email accounts? If you want to find photographs related to a well site, or information about a complaint, should you have to search for it in a bunch of state employee email accounts? Or should that information be filed into a database?
The latter, I think we can agree, is preferable. But once that filing takes place, of what utility are the emails?
Braaten offers us proof that emails are deleted, but it’s not clear that those deleted emails resulted in public information being put beyond the public’s reach.
Until he proves that he really doesn’t have a case.
Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.
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