North Dakota’s top oil and gas regulator had a problem. With winter bearing down, his department had yet to spend $16 million in federal coronavirus relief funds earmarked for cleaning up abandoned oil and gas well sites across the state, and the arrival of cold weather would halt the work. 

If the money wasn’t spent by the end of the year, the state would lose it. So Lynn Helms, director of the state’s Department of Mineral Resources, proposed a different use for the funds: paying oil companies to hydraulically fracture new wells.

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