Do not look at this possibly confidential oil well in North Dakota. (Photo by  Tim Evanson )

Do not look at this possibly confidential oil well in North Dakota. (Photo by Tim Evanson)

>>> Attorney Derrick Braaten got wind that North Dakota's Oil and Gas Division was mass-deleting emails and attachments - including "reports and photos of oil spills from emergency managers and landowners and reports of discrepancies in gas flaring data" - so he filed a state Freedom of Information Act request for them. Although they had been deleted, they were restored from a back-up server and sent to him at a cost of $8,900, as reported by the Bismarck Tribune on May 19, 2017.

Hearing that a trove of documents had been released about an important issue in a battleground state (home of the Dakota Access Pipeline), I immediately filed a "piggyback request" asking for the same records. I figured that any fees for these pre-processed records would be fairly low. Wrong.

I've been informed that the records will have to be reviewed again before being released to me. Reason being that information about some oil and gas wells is temporarily restricted under North Dakota law (when demanded by the owners of those wells). It's apparently possible that in the time since the emails were released to Derrick Braaten, some additional wells may have been deemed confidential. So the released emails will need to be reviewed all over again before being released to me. Cost: $3,850.

The Memory Hole 2 is a one-person operation.
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At least the FOIA officer told me that she would restrict the re-review to the emails most likely to cover newly confidential wells, which cuts the cost in half. Otherwise the tab would be around $8,000, close to the amount Braaten paid for his original request. Nonetheless, way too rich for my blood. The Memory Hole 2 is one guy and a laptop.

Here's the email (May 24, 2017) from the Department of Mineral Resources's Public Information Officer:

N.D.C.C. 38-08-04(6) states that the commission is to: provide for the confidentiality of well data reported to the commission if requested in writing by those reporting the data for a period not to exceed six months.
Many emails in Mr. Braaten’s open records request was subject to redaction pursuant to this statute, among others. This particular statue however, means that some wells may have been placed on confidential status between the time Mr. Braaten received his request and the time you requested the same items.
Any person who knowingly distributes confidential items is guilty of a class C felony pursuant to N.D.C.C. 38-08-16 (2).
In order to protect confidentiality provided by law, some members of staff will need to again review emails for possible additional redaction. In order to reduce costs, we will narrow down the search to staff members within the oil and gas division who have the greatest likelihood of possessing confidential material, rather than having the entire office review emails. To put that in context, instead of approximately 100 staff members re-reviewing emails, it will instead be about half.
Based on time previously spent for Mr. Braaten’s request, the total estimated time for redaction is 155 hours. Open records laws allows an entity to charge $25 an hour after the first hour for redaction.
Therefore, your total estimated cost for 154 hours at $25.00 an hour is $3,850.
If you wish to proceed with this request please let me know by C.O.B. Friday, May 25th, otherwise I will consider your request withdrawn.  You will need to provide a cashier’s check for the total amount, payable to the North Dakota Industrial Commission before we can begin processing your request.