North Dakota officials are hoping to use federal coronavirus funds for fracking grants—a move that has critics up in arms, the Grand Forks Herald reports. A state energy commission voted unanimously Friday to reallocate over $221 million in congressional virus aid to state agencies, including $16 million for fracking. The goal, per Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms, is to generate jobs while plugging and reclaiming wells that might leak or allow emissions to escape: Oil companies "had been talking about how slow work was and how bad it was going to get during the coming winter months," he tells the Bismarck Tribune. "They were really excited by this. That's what this really is, to generate these jobs for the next couple months."
But critics are calling it "corporate welfare" and "insider spending." In the words of Scott Skokos, head of the Dakota Resource Council, "We should not be doing direct bailouts to the oil industry, and this is a direct bailout." State Sen. Tim Mathern, a Democrat, said that "this money is supposed to help North Dakotans recover from the pandemic and support working families, not serve as another handout to an industry that is already at full workforce." The reallocation is part of $66 million in virus aid already designated for well sites by the state. The all-Republican commission is aiming to spend it before a Dec. 30 deadline on using $1.25 billion allotted by Congress. The EPA and Greenpeace have raised alarm bells about fracking, saying it can contaminate drinking water. (Others have linked it to earthquakes.)