Article in The Local Rag uses half-truths, lies and plain stupidity to promote oil drilling

The Local Rag, a free monthly publication distributed in south central Carbon County, recently published a rather curious pro and con on fracking. It’s worth mentioning because it highlights the tricks that pro-drilling advocates use everywhere to advance their cause.

The article is split into three parts:

  • The Science and History of Fracking, by long-time Red Lodge resident and certified petroleum geologist Al Bloomer. Mr. Bloomer is a respected local voice. While I would quibble with points that he made and the conclusion, it is a reasonably balanced piece that is worth reading.
  • The Argument Against, by Carbon County Resource Council Chair Deb Muth. Ms. Muth is a long-time local activist who does her usual credible job of making a number of fact-based points, many of which have been discussed over the last several months on this blog. It is also worth reading.
  • The Argument in Favor, which is uncredited, and for a very good reason.– it is full of half-truths, outright lies and stupidity that are straight out of the oil and gas industry playbook.

Read all three, but I’m going to focus on the last section of the article here because it provides so many examples of the depths to which pro-drillers will stoop to make their arguments.

The basic premise of the pro-fracking piece is that “(o)pponents of fracking use a time-tested strategy for spreading propaganda; it’s called FUD, and it stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. They realize that most Montanans have no idea what fracking actually is, so they have orchestrated a campaign of misinformation.”

After insulting the intelligence of most Montanans, the author, whoever he or she is, then proceeds to try to debunk this alleged FUD without offering a single fact to do so.

Here are some examples of the lies, half-truths and outright stupidity in the article:

  • “Fracking has been around since the 1940s, and has been used in millions of wells around the world.” True enough, but the technology that has revolutionized the industry and created the current oil and gas boom is horizontal drilling, which is much newer and has brought a number of risks that have been chronicled on this blog. The industry loves to trot out the time-tested technology argument in defense of fracking, but it leaves out the important fact that it is the recent innovation of horizontal drilling that has transformed the industry.
  • The anonymous author then trots out the tried and true quote from Lisa Jackson, former administrator of the EPA, who said, in testimony before Congress,

 “I am not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself (bold added) has affected water, although there are investigations ongoing.”

Carol French displays her contaminated drinking water.

Carol French displays her contaminated drinking water. Click to get a better view of how discolored it is

We dealt with this one yesterday, but it’s worth touching on it again. It is very difficult to prove that the fracking process itself causes contamination, as explained here. But there are many, many documented cases of water contamination for fracked wells. You can find a list of 243 of them in Pennsylvania here.

If you’re really interested in reading scientific, peer-reviewed studies that document water contamination due to fracking, you can read 59 of them here (For those of you keeping score, note that scientific and peer-reviewed specifically means Not FUD.) Or, better yet, ask John Fenton. Or Carol French. Or Deb Thomas. Or Steve and Jacki Schilke. Or Terry and Teresa Jackson. Or Marilyn Hunt. Or Christine Pepper. Or Linda Monson. Or Diana Daunheimer. Or Laura Amos. Or the late Terry Greenwood.

  • Mr. or Ms. Anonymous then moves along to what he calls “uncertainty,” describing how fracking fluid is over 99% water, and less than 1% chemicals. “Think about this,” says the unnamed author. “The entire reason those rocks are being fracked is that they’re IMPERMEABLE! Water and chemicals can’t seep through them! The actual fractures are typically 100-200 feet long, so they don’t go anywhere near the aquifers.” I’m reluctant to use this word when describing the writings of others, because I’m sure it applies to mine from time to time, but this is just a stupid misunderstanding of the drilling process. The chemicals don’t just stay in the fractures. While most of the toxic fluid remains underground, a significant portion, the “flowback,” returns to the surface, where it is typically stored in open pits or tanks at the well site and must be disposed of. The chemicals used in fracking fluid have names like lead, mercury, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde.
  • Then he moves on to doubt, explaining that fracking opponents are just scaring people with claims about manmade earthquakes related to fracking. “There have been a couple of cases of tiny earthquakes attributed to fracking. Yes, I said “a couple.” As in two, the Author Without a Name claims. Well, I won’t say this is stupid. It’s just a lie. The people of Oklahoma are very clear about that.

There’s plenty of blame to go around on this. Expanded oil drilling along the Beartooth Front is an important issue that deserves to be debated in a public forum. We should all appreciate that The Local Rag took responsibility for doing this. But shame on them for failing to find a credible fracking proponent to advance that argument (or maybe there isn’t one). Shame on the author for not having the guts to sign his or her name to the article. And shame on the oil and gas industry for constantly accusing their opponents of putting forward FUD when they’re the ones who consistently lie and twist the facts.

Part of the purpose of this blog is to make arguments based on facts, which I try to link to. You can disagree with the conclusions I make, but, as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own set of facts.”

How water contamination can occur. Click to enlarge. Source: The Checks and Balances Project

How water contamination can occur. Click to enlarge. Source: The Checks and Balances Project

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Let’s put one of the oil industry’s great lies to rest once and for all: a list of 243 water wells contaminated by drilling activity in Pennsylvania

You’ll find this quote from former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson in pretty much every pro-drilling article ever written:

“I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.”

Pennsylvania contamination1If you’ve followed the EPA’s mishandling of the investigation of water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming and their retreat from political attack on the matter, you’ll understand her unwillingness to comment. And, if you watch the video, you’ll note that she qualifies her remarks and limits them to “the fracking process itself,” not spills and pit lining leakage and the failure of concrete casings and all the other ways water gets contaminated at well sites.

But it’s good enough for defenders of oil drilling to say that oil drilling is absolutely safe.

If you Google that comment, you’ll see that the quote is the basis of dozens of articles saying drilling doesn’t cause water contamination.

When someone says this to you, look him or her in the eye and say, without fear of contradiction, “This is not true.”

Today we provide conclusive easy-to-use evidence that you can point to. Bookmark this, download it to your hard drive, print it out and keep it handy.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has just released a list of 243 cases of documented water contamination due to conventional and unconventional oil and gas drilling in that state.  According to the document:

The following list identifies cases where DEP determined that a private water supply was impacted by oil and  gas activities. The oil and gas activities referenced in the list below include operations associated with both conventional and unconventional drilling activities that either resulted in a water diminution event or an increase in constituents above background conditions.

Folks, that means contamination.

Pennsylvania contamination2For each of the 243 items on the list, there is a clickable link to the DEP order that defines the nature of the contamination, and how or whether the contamination has been addressed by the oil/gas operator (here’s an example).

You should be reminded also that the Pennsylvania DEP keeps a database on the compliance violations of each operator in the state. If you’ve followed this site, you know that Energy Corporation of America, the company that has promised to “bring the Bakken to the Beartooths,” has been charged with 66 inspections with violations, 90 separate violations, 55 enforcement actions and paid fines of over $80,000 in Pennsylvania alone, and has been cited for 70 more violations in West Virginia. You can see the Pennsylvania report for yourself by clicking here. In the report you’ll see specifically the kinds of violations that lead to water contamination: rips in pit linings, failure to cap wells, failure of cement casings.

Let’s put this all together:

Do these facts scare you? They should.

There is something we can do about it if we act together as a community. Follow this site to find out more.

 

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The EPA is not testing to see if injection fluids are contaminating our water. We need to take responsibility for doing it ourselves.

Your tax dollars at work…

Last month the federal Government Accounting Agency released a report on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program to protect underground water sources from the injection of fluids associated with oil and gas drilling.

If you’re a regular reader you won’t be surprised by what they found out.

Injection well diagram

Injection well diagram

The EPA’s role
According to the report, the EPA’s role in the Underground Injection Control program is to oversee and enforce fluid injection into wells associated with oil and gas production, known as Class II wells. EPA has approved 39 states to manage their own class II programs, and EPA regions are responsible for managing the programs in the remaining states.

The study was conducted because

Every day in the U.S. at least 2 billion gallons of fluids are injected into more than 172,000 wells to enhance oil and gas production, or to dispose of fluids brought to the surface during the extraction of oil and gas resources. These wells are subject to regulation to protect drinking water sources under EPA’s UIC class II program and approved state class II programs. Because much of the population relies on underground sources for drinking water, these wells have raised concerns about the safety of the nation’s drinking water.

There were two major findings, from the report:

  1. EPA does not consistently conduct annual on-site state program evaluations as directed in guidance because, according to some EPA officials, the agency does not have the resources to do so. The agency has not, however, evaluated its guidance, which dates from the 1980s, to determine which activities are essential for effective oversight. Without such an evaluation, EPA does not know what oversight activities are most effective or necessary.
  2. To enforce state class II requirements, under current agency regulations, EPA must approve and incorporate state program requirements and any changes to them into federal regulations through a rulemaking.EPA has not incorporated all such requirements and changes into federal regulations and, as a result, may not be able to enforce all state program requirements. Some EPA officials said that incorporating changes into federal regulations through the rulemaking process is burdensome and time-consuming. EPA has not, however, evaluated alternatives for a more efficient process to approve and incorporate state program requirements and changes into regulations. Without incorporating these requirements and changes into federal regulations, EPA cannot enforce them if a state does not take action or requests EPA’s assistance to take action.

I’m about as shocked as Captain Louis Renault in the film Casablanca:

That the federal government is not doing its job shouldn’t shock you. Some time ago we revealed that the Bureau of Land Management, another federal agency, is failing to inspect high risk wells.

The takeaway for us
What’s the takeaway for us along the Beartooth Front? The oil and gas boom has exploded over the last 10 years. It’s growth has outstripped the ability of federal and state agencies to protect citizens against water contamination. It’s as true in Montana, which has only seven well inspectors for the entire state, as it is in North Dakota or anywhere else. In Montana, those seven inspectors are responsible not only for the 1,062 class II injection wells in the state, but also for the other 10,000 wells across the state.

There’s also no transparency in the way Montana does inspections. Just yesterday Northern Plains Resource Council sent a letter to the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) demanding that they publish their data on the Internet. Right now you have to go into BOGC’s offices in Billings to research anything having to do with well inspections.

A view of the dry bed of a reservoir in Texas. Records show that environmental officials have granted more than 50 aquifer exemptions for waste disposal in that state. Courtesy of ProPublica

A view of the dry bed of a reservoir in Texas. Records show that environmental officials have granted more than 50 aquifer exemptions for waste disposal in that state. Courtesy of ProPublica

This is not just a record-keeping problem. Class II injection wells are responsible for substantial pollution across the country. The EPA has a long history of granting exemptions to oil and gas companies to pollute aquifers, often in drought-stricken Western states.

This may sound like a perpetual refrain, but there’s only one way to protect our water. It’s local regulation to demand that oil and gas operators use highest and best management standards when they are drilling in Carbon and Stillwater Counties. Here’s the kind of standard that would be built into those regulations:

Comprehensive water testing at least once every three months during the period of active well operation, and at least once a year for the next 20 years following completion for every water well within three miles of each well bore. The testing is to be done at the expense of the oil and gas operator, and the results must be provided to the County planning and zoning committee, which shall publish the results on a public web site. Testing must be conducted by an independent Montana state licensed engineer.

Our water, our responsibility
This is just good sense. It’s our water that’s at risk. We know that the EPA and the State of Montana are not going to do adequate testing. We should take responsibility for keeping our water clean. We should make sure the inspections get done, and we should make sure results are published so that everyone knows what they are.

We should set the rules for how oil and gas drilling occurs in our back yards, and we should set up enforcement mechanisms to make sure the rules get enforced.

Posted in Community Organization, Fracking Information, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Gas flaring is dangerous to our health and environment. There’s one way to stop it. Locally.

Gas flaring, the deliberate open-air burning of natural gas, is a practice common in the largest shale oil plays where natural gas is a byproduct of oil extraction.

There are some legitimate reasons to allow limited use of flaring. After a shale oil/gas well is drilled and hydraulically fractured, a temporary flare is used during well production testing. Testing is important in order to determine the pressure, flow and composition of the gas or oil from the well. Flaring at the well site can legitimately last for several days or weeks, until the flow of liquids and gas from the well and pressures are stabilized.

But once the flow is stable, the practice is dangerous and unnecessary unless required for safety reasons.

What’s wrong with flaring? Plenty:

  • Flaring releases methane, a greenhouse gas that, when released directly into the air, traps heat in the atmosphere. The process of flaring contributes directly to global warming.
  • Flaring has a substantial impact on the health and environment of landowners who live near a flared well. The methane release is smelly, noisy, and, according to the Natural Institute of Health, exposure causes “headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and loss of coordination” in people and animals. It creates a 24×7 bright light, blocking out the night sky.
  • Flaring is a waste of a precious natural resource. In oil plays, where natural gas is an unwanted byproduct of oil extraction, flaring is common because oil is 30 times more valuable than natural gas. So rather than capture it and take it to market, it is destroyed — hardly an efficient way to treat precious natural resources.
Gas flaring in the Bakken. Courtesy National Geographic

Natural gas flaring in the Bakken. Courtesy National Geographic

It’s also unnecessary. Technologies currently exist, and more are being developed, to capture natural gas at the wellhead, and natural gas can be used for purposes such as fueling generators at the well site.

This is a huge problem. In the Bakken, about a third of natural gas produced through the process of oil extraction is flared. According to a study released this month by Earthworks, $854 million in natural gas has been burned as waste in the Bakken since 2010, enough to pay for solar panel installations in almost every household in Fargo.  The 130 billion cubic feet of natural gas burned in just two oil plays — the Bakken and Eagle Ford Shale in Texas — has produced the equivalent of 1.5 million cars’ worth of carbon dioxide emissions.

What about state regulation?
So, problem identified. We just need states to regulate flaring to curb this practice, right?

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know the answer to that question. No.

photo of a flared well in the Bakken, shot from a high altitude balloon. Courtesy of Skytruth. Click to enlarge.

Photo of a flared well in the Bakken, shot from a high altitude balloon. Courtesy of Skytruth. Click to enlarge.

The simplest and most direct way for states to regulate flaring might be to make companies pay taxes on the amount of gas they flare. In that way you can encourage them to move to wellhead methane capture. This isn’t done. North Dakota neither tracks how much companies pay in taxes on flared gas, nor independently tracks the volume of flared gas. Texas does not require producers to pay taxes on flared gas.

North Dakota put regulations in place last June that the state says will eventually reduce flaring to 10% of natural gas produced, but the outcome is not clear because North Dakota has such a poor record of monitoring oil operations. Companies can also seek exemptions to the law, which North Dakota has consistently granted in the past.

And Montana? You’ve got to be kidding. The residents of the Silvertip Zone in Belfry asked the Montana Board of Oil and Gas to prohibit flaring in the permit  for the Hunt Creek 1-H well earlier this year, but the plea was ignored. If that well is fracked, as most expect it will be, it (and others that follow) will almost certainly be flared.

There’s a way to deal with this locally
This is why local citizen-initiated zoning is critical. If John Mork is successful in his goal of bringing the “Bakken to the Beartooths,” the only way to protect local landowners from this dangerous and destructive practice is to install local regulations to limit its use. That won’t keep mineral rights holders from getting their oil. It will just require oil operators to use the highest standards in extraction to protect our property, our land, our water, and our way of life.

That’s not anti-business. That is not unnecessary government intrusion.

It’s just fair.

Skytruth has released an interactive map of flaring activity across the globe. Click to access the map

Skytruth has released an interactive map of flaring activity across the globe. Click to access the map

 

 

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Video of the Carbon County Commissioners Meeting, 8/18/2014

For those of you who couldn’t make yesterday’s meeting, here is a video of the proceedings.

VimeoYou can view the video in full screen mode by clicking on the icon to the left of the word “Vimeo” in the bottom right corner of the viewer.

Silvertip organic farmer Bonnie Martinell presents the zone. Click to enlarge.

Silvertip organic farmer Bonnie Martinell presents the zone. Click to enlarge.

I received this early Tuesday morning, so in the interest of getting it online I won’t offer much commentary, but I’ll leave you with an overall impression based on conversations with several of the attendees:

The outcome of the meeting was not a strong yea or nay, but the beginning of a process that will take some time. Bonnie Martinell did a great job of presenting the case for a Silvertip zone. Two of the three Commissioners were in attendance, and both asked questions and raised objections and concerns, as did the County Attorney and the County Planner.

The next task will be for the petitioners to present a zoning document, which should happen this week. This document will describe the specific regulations requested for the zone. The Commission will review the signatures and the document, and will come back next month with a response,

L toR: Doug Tucker, County Commissioner; Alex Nixon, County Attorney; Brent Moore, County Planner; John Prinkki, County Commissioner. Click to enlarge.

L toR: Doug Tucker, County Commissioner; Alex Nixon, County Attorney; Brent Moore, County Planner; John Prinkki, County Commissioner. Click to enlarge.

Much more to come — this is going to take patience and perseverance. Thanks to all those who attended. It was a huge turnout for a public meeting in Red Lodge. It will be important to keep up this level of support for the petitioners as we go forward.

Action items:

  • Contact the Carbon County Commissioners to let them know you support the Silvertip Zone. Key points to include: the Silvertip zone is necessary to enable farmers and ranchers in Carbon County protect their land, their water, and their livelihoods. The zone will provide protections that state and federal law do not provide. It enables mineral rights holders to get their oil, but to do it in a way that is fair for everyone involved.
    • The County Commissioners are John Prinkki, John Grewell, and Doug Tucker
    • Their email address is commissioners@co.carbon.mt.us
    • The County Commissioners phone is 446-1595

Public discussion. Click to enlarge.

Public discussion. Click to enlarge.

NEW! Check out Ed Kemmick’s coverage of the meeting over at lastbestnews.com

NEW 8/20/14! Billings Gazette coverage by Tom Lutey

Thanks to Jay West of Red Lodge for the video
Posted in Community Organization, Politics and History | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Overflow crowd at the Carbon County Commissioners meeting

10:30am. The meeting is just starting, and the room is overflowing. If you get this via email, click on the title of the post to view the video.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Meeting today in Red Lodge! Frequently Asked Questions about the Silvertip citizen-initiated zone

This morning residents of the Silvertip community in Belfry will be presenting a zoning petition to the Carbon County Commission. Please go to support them if you can (details here).

The petition is the result of months of hard work by a local grass roots group — community organizing, education, legal research, and much more from tireless volunteers.

Today we have a list of frequently asked questions about the petition to help you understand exactly what it is the Silvertip residents are asking for. You can either page through the questions or click on an individual question to retrieve the answer. (If you click on the individual question, use the back arrow to get back to the list of questions. Note to Google Chrome users: this function doesn’t work perfectly in that browser.)

Frequently asked questions

Carbon County CommissionersWhat exactly is happening in Carbon County?
How is this authorized by state law?
What are the requirements for a special district?
How will the special zone be administered?
What happens once the petition is submitted?
Why is this zone necessary?
What are the Silvertip landowners asking for?
What are highest and best management practices?
Why should the oil and gas operator have to pay for testing of water, air and soil?
Isn’t this an unnecessary government intrusion into private property rights?
There are a lot of federal laws that protect us against air and water pollution. Aren’t these enough to keep us safe?
Energy Corporation of America (ECA) is a large oil and gas company with years of operating experience. Why not just let rely on them to be professional stewards of our land and water?
What about the mineral rights holders? Isn’t it fair for them to be able to get their oil out of the ground?
I have read that fracking is a 50 year old mature technology that is completely safe, and that there has never been a documented case of water contamination due to fracking. Are claims of environmental risk just scare tactics tactic by environmental activists?
What are the risks of being close to a fracked well?
Isn’t this all theoretical? Are there really documented cases of these impacts to people who live near oil and gas wells?
The oil and gas industry says that environmentalists use scare tactics instead of facts to try to block oil and gas drilling. Is that true?
What can I do to help?
How do I find out more?

Q. What exactly is happening in Carbon County?
A. A group of landowners in the Silvertip area around the Belfry well have signed a petition asking the Carbon County Commission to create a special zone with rules for oil and gas drilling.

Q. How is this authorized by state law?
A. In 1963, the Montana legislature adopted Mont. Code Ann. § 76-2-209 as part of the Montana Zoning and Planning Act (MZPA). This law effectively prohibits local governments from “prevent(ing) the complete use, development or recovery of any mineral, forest, or agricultural resource.”

This is similar to laws in other Western states. The owners of natural resource rights have a protected ability to get those resources out of the ground.

However, Montana law provides for local control in Mont. Code Ann. 76-2-101: “Whenever the public interest or convenience may require and upon petition of 60% of the affected real property owners in the proposed district, the board of county commissioners may create a planning and zoning district and appoint a planning and zoning commission” to administer the district. This is what the Silvertip residents are asking the Commissioners to do.

Q. What are the requirements for establishing a special district?
A. Citizens can request a special zone when 60% of the landowners in the zone sign a petition requesting it. This petition then goes to the County Commissioners, who, after a public hearing, must agree to move forward and create a planning and zoning commission (PAZC).

Q. How will the special zoning district be administered?
A. If the County Commission accepts the zone, it will set up a special Planning and Zoning Commission to administer the policies and procedures of the zone. The Commission will be comprised of two local residents of the zone, the three County Commissioners, and two elected officials.

Q. What happens once the petition is submitted?
A. The Carbon County staff will look at all the documentation submitted by the Silvertip residents, and verify that signatures are properly collected and the land to be included in the zone is properly defined. The Commissioners then have 15 days to set up a public hearing to approve the zoning request and move forward to set up a Planning and Zoning Commission for the district.

Q. Why is this zone necessary?
A. It is necessary because federal and state laws and regulatory bodies like the Montana Board of Oil and Gas are weighted far in favor of oil and gas operators. These laws deprive local landowners of their rights, resulting in loss of property value, the risk of water contamination, and dangers to personal health. Local efforts are the only way for landowners to level the playing field.

A recent photo of the Belfry well

A recent photo of the Belfry well

Q. What are the Silvertip landowners asking for?
A. The residents are requesting that a special zone be established that requires oil and gas operators to adhere to the highest and best management practices in conducting oil and gas operations within the district. They are not asking for a moratorium. They are asking only that their property, water and health be protected from unnecessary damage due to oil and gas operations.

Q. What are highest and best management practices?
A. The “highest and best management practices” for the operation of a well will ultimately be determined by the planning and zoning committee. Below are some exemplary standards:

  1. Minimum spacing. Well bores must be at least a mile apart.
  2. Well design. Wells must be designed using a closed-loop system, with no holding or reserve pits or ponds permitted.
  3. Flaring. Flaring (burning off natural gas) from the well bore is not permitted, except when necessary to protect public health and safety, and well bore venting or any other atmospheric discharge is to be reduced to the maximum extent possible.
  4. Placement of well pads. Well pads should be located to minimize impacts to the visual and scenic views of the surrounding landscape.
  5. Noise. Sound suppression for any equipment making significant noise, including compressors, so that the noise level, at any time of operations, does not exceed on average during a twenty-four (24) hour period 78 dB and does not at any time exceed 85 dB.
  6. Water quality testing. Comprehensive water testing at least once every three months during the period of active well operation, and at least once a year for the next 20 years following completion for every water well within three miles of each well bore. The testing is to be done at the expense of the oil and gas operator, and the results must be provided to the PAZC, which shall publish the results on a public web site. Testing must be conducted by an independent Montana state licensed engineer.
  7. Air quality testing. Comprehensive air quality testing at least once every three months during the period of active well operation, and at least once a year for the next three years following completion at sites within two miles of each well bore. The testing is to be done at the expense of the oil and gas operator, and the results must be provided to the PAZC, which shall publish the results on a public web site. Testing must be conducted by an independent Montana state licensed engineer.
  8. Soil testing.Comprehensive soil quality testing at least once every three months during the period of active well operation, and at least once a year for the next three years following completion at sites within a two mile radius of each well bore, and at all points along the surface above the (horizontal) well. The testing is to be done at the expense of the oil and gas operator, and the results must be provided to the PAZC, which shall publish the results on a public web site. Testing must be conducted by an independent person qualified to evaluate the soil quality.

Bret Smelser, Board of Oil and Gas member, who voted against protections proposed by Silvertip community members

Bret Smelser, Board of Oil and Gas member and ex-Mayor of Sidney, who voted against protections proposed by Silvertip community members

Q. Doesn’t Montana law Provide for the standards above?
A. No. The state of Montana provides insufficient regulatory support for important protection, such as water quality and quantity, air quality, and public health. In addition, the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC), the primary state agency responsible for permitting wells, is designed to promote the drilling of wells for profit. What’s more, the residents of the Silvertip area appealed to the BOGC before the Belfry well was permitted, but there were no substantive modifications made to the permit based on their concerns.

Q. Why should the oil and gas operator have to pay for testing of water, air and soil?
A. This is a fundamental issue of fairness.The impact of drilling is not confined to the specific lot where the well is located. Water, air and soil can be contaminated in nearby land that has no connection to the drilling. Should a landowner with little financial stake in the drilling have to pay thousands of dollars for this testing even if he receives minimal compensation from oil extraction? If the testing isn’t supervised, there is no way to determine whether any contamination resulted from the drilling or another source, so the landowner will have to pay for the cleanup without opportunity to receive any compensation for damages.

No, the cost of determining whether there has been environmental damage should be a cost of doing business for the oil and gas operator. It is only in this way that the land, water and air can be protected after they leave.

Q. Isn’t this an unnecessary government intrusion into private property rights?
A. The government has already intruded into private property rights by creating laws that make mineral rights dominant over surface rights. This requires the surface owner to give up use of his land without permission, and can put the owner in danger of losing property value, of being in violation of mortgage covenants or not being able to get insurance.

Q. There are a lot of federal laws that protect us against air and water pollution. Aren’t these enough to keep us safe?
A. Between 1970 and 1990 there were many federal laws designed to protect our environment. Since that time the oil and gas industry has been successful in becoming exempt in very significant ways from these laws. An example is the Halliburton Loophole, passed in the Energy Act of 2005, which exempts oil and gas from having to disclose the chemicals used in fracking, which are now protected as “trade secrets.” Oil and gas is also exempted from basic environmental laws like the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Aire Act, Clean Water Act, and NEPA.

Q. Energy Corporation of America (ECA) is a large oil and gas company with years of operating experience. Why not just let rely on them to be professional stewards of our land and water?
A. It’s true that ECA has a long history as an oil and gas operator. Unfortunately that history is full of compliance violations and fines in other states. In Pennsylvania, which keeps detailed records and posts them online, ECA has had 66 inspections with violations, 90 separate violations, and 55 enforcement actions, and been levied over $80,000 in fines. You can download a copy of the report to see for yourself.

ECA vendor taking water illegally near Belfry well

ECA vendor taking water illegally near Belfry well

And when ECA began drilling the well at the Belfry site in June, they immediately got involved with a vendor who took water illegally from a local source and had to be shut down by the Montana Department of Natural Resource Conservation, which received many calls and emails from vigilant local residents.

This is a company that clearly regards spills, leaks and fines as a cost of doing business. It is entirely reasonable for landowners near this well to want to establish legal measures to protect themselves.

Q. What about the mineral rights holders? Isn’t it fair for them to be able to get their oil out of the ground?
A. There is nothing in this petition that keeps mineral rights holders from extracting their oil. All this special district would do is require that ECA and other operators follow highest and best management practices, and that their compliance with those practices be monitored and enforced locally. As long as operators follow these practices, the mineral rights holder will be able to extract oil.

Q. I have read that fracking is a 50 year old mature technology that is completely safe, and that there has never been a documented case of water contamination due to fracking. Are claims of environmental risk just scare tactics by environmental activists?
A. While it is true that fracking technology, which involves the injection of toxic chemicals into rock, has been used for many years, it is the use of the newer technology of horizontal drilling that has greatly expanded the risk for residents living near a well or above a horizontal bore hole. These advances in technology have brought the heavy industry of oil and gas drilling closer and closer to where people live. Today over 15 million people in the United States live within a mile of an oil and gas well, leaving them exposed to these risks.

A search on this blog of the term “water contamination” will lead you to plenty of documented material. You can also look at the Zotero database, which provides plenty of peer-reviewed scientific studies that document water contamination.

Q. What are the risks of being close to a fracked well?

A. There are many different kinds of risks:

  • Fracking is highly water intensive. A single well requires over 2 million gallons of fresh water that is then treated with chemicals. This water can never be reused or returned to the hydrologic system, so it is gone forever. In Montana as in many areas of the country, fresh water is scarce. This is not an idle concern. When the Belfry well was first drilled, ECA worked with a contractor who used local water without a water right.
  • Wastewater from fracking is stored in injection wells or storage facilities. There are many documented cases of water leaking out of storage and migrating into groundwater. ECA has been cited for improperly lined storage pits in Pennsylvania. In Belfry the pit is in a clear drainage that experiences regular spring gully washers, running through neighboring farms and ranches. Local residents brought this up to the Board of Oil and Gas without being able to get any protections in the permit.
  • Flaring in the Bakken makes it appear as bright as Minneapolis from space

    Flaring in the Bakken makes it appear as bright as Minneapolis from space

    Methane, nitrous oxide and other compounds can leak from the well site into the air, or be intentionally “flared” or burned off, creating dangerous exposure for local residents. In a recent case, a jury awarded $2.9 million to a family that suffered severe negative health effects because of being exposed to poor air quality caused by living close to a well. If you drive up Silvertip Road to Elk Basin, where wells are currently operating, you can smell the pungent odor of these compounds.

  • Drilling is a 24×7 activity. Activity requires light around the clock and is very noisy, creating disturbances for local residents, and potentially harming livestock and crops.
  • Drilling causes loss of habitat for wildlife. A single well results in the clearance of 3.7 to 7.6 acres of vegetation, causing habitat to be lost or fragmented.
  • Blowouts and spills often occur at the well site, causing chemicals to be emitted into the air and leak into the ground. This endangers groundwater and the health of people near the well.
  • Wells require massive truck transport for supply of materials and water transport. A single well can require 800 individual truck runs. The truck runs tear up roads, and cause dust and other pollution.
  • Well casing failure is a frequent cause of leakage, which can result in aquifer and groundwater contamination.

The diagram below depicts these sources of risk:

Causes of environmental damage due to fracking. Adapted from Frontiers in Ecology and the   Environment and Princeton University PR Department.

Causes of environmental damage due to fracking. Adapted from Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment and Princeton University PR Department.

Q. Isn’t this all theoretical? Are there really documented cases of these impacts to people who live near oil and gas wells?
A. You can read many documented personal stories on this site. These are real people whose lives have been affected by oil and gas drilling on or near their properties.

Q. The oil and gas industry says that environmentalists use scare tactics instead of facts to try to block oil and gas drilling. Is that true?
A. Well, these FAQs provide many links for you to see for yourself what’s true. If you read them carefully, you won’t see scare tactics, just a lot of facts. You also won’t see an attempt to block oil and gas drilling. What the Silvertip residents want is fairness for their community — an opportunity to preserve property, water, and a way of life. You should want that too. What has the oil and gas industry provided in the way of facts?

Q. What can I do to help?
A. You can tell the County Commissioners that you support the zone. Contact them by phone at 446-1595, or by email at commissioners@co.carbon.mt.us. The three County Commissioners are John Grewell of Joliet, Doug Tucker of Bridger and John Prinkki of Red Lodge. Tell them that the Silvertip Zone is critical to protecting our land, our water, and our way of life.

Q. How do I find out more?
A.  You can use the search function on this blog to read for yourself. If you’re just beginning to find out about this issue, a good place to begin would be a pamphlet put out by the Union of Concerned Scientists called Toward an Evidence-Based Fracking Debate. It’s long on facts and a good primer on the issues.

We have also set up another web site for you to do your own research. It’s important to understand the issues.

You should also join Northern Plains Resource Council, which is leading the efforts in this area, or its affiliates Carbon County Resource Council and Stillwater Protective Association.

Thanks to Hank Lischer and Maggie Zaback for their help in putting this FAQ together.
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Action alert: We need your attendance at a critical public meeting in Red Lodge on Monday, August 18

The location of the Belfry well
The location of the Belfry well

Please read and plan to attend this important event.

Who: Residents of the Silvertip community in Belfry are petitioning the Carbon County Commission to create a citizen initiated zone in their area. These are landowners who live near the initial Energy Corporation of America well permitted by the Montana Board of Oil and Gas.

The well at Belfry
The well at Belfry

What: This zone is a cornerstone of the strategy to bring fairness to oil and gas drilling along the Beartooth Front. The zone document petitions the Carbon County Commission to set up a planning and zoning commission to oversee oil drilling in the Silvertip area. The petition, signed by more than 60% of the landowners in the area, requires that oil operators use “highest and best management practices” when drilling in the zone.

When: The petition is on the agenda for the regular meeting of the Carbon County Commission on Monday, August 18 at 10:30am. Please arrive by 10:00 to make sure you are in attendance when this agenda item begins.

An oil truck envelopes us in dust. Click to enlarge.
An oil truck near the well kicks up dust on passing cars

Where:The meeting will be held in the Carbon County Commissioners Hearing Room at 17 West 11th Street in Red Lodge.

Why: This is a critical step in our campaign to preserve the Beartooth Front. The citizen initiated zone restores fairness to oil and gas drilling. It is not a ban or a moratorium. It allows mineral rights holders to get their oil, but it protects the property rights and water of local residents in a way that state and federal law do not.

Bonnie Martinell, an organic farmer from the Silvertip area, will be presenting at the meeting
Bonnie Martinell, an organic farmer from the Silvertip zone, will present at the meeting

The reason why we are asking you to attend is to show the County Commission that there is broad support for this effort in the community. The meeting is an opportunity for you to take action and make a difference in the fight to preserve the Beartooth Front.

If you are interested in carpooling:
Billings area: contact Alicia at alicia@northernplains.org            or 248-1154
Stillwater County: contact Hannah at Hannah@northernplains.org or 248-1154

Coming up on Monday: Frequently Asked Questions about the Silvertip petition — everything you need to know about this part of the plan to preserve the Beartooth Front.

Background: you should read these posts.
Citizen initiated zoning: a way to restore fairness to oil and gas drilling in Montana
A visit to the front in the war against rural America

Please share this post with people who might want to come!

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Repost: A visit to the front in the war against rural America

A visit to the frontLast week I took advantage of the beautiful Montana spring weather to drive over to Belfry. There I could see for myself the site of the well recently permitted by the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC). It was one of those incredible Montana days when Winter and Spring intersect. The temperature was near 70, yet the snow was piled high in Red Lodge, where it was the end of ski season. As I dropped down 2000 feet into Bridger the snow disappeared and it was spring.

Beartooths from Bridger. Ski runs visible on the right.
The Beartooths from Belfry. Ski runs visible on the right. Click to enlarge.

In Belfry the Beartooth Mountains dominate the landscape, standing watch from nearly 13,000 feet. In one direction I could see the ski runs above Red Lodge, and in another the breathtaking Beartooth Pass that leads to Cooke City and Yellowstone Park. On the clearest days the Grand Tetons lend their wispy beauty from 200 miles away.

Latest front in the oil and gas war
It’s hard to imagine that this gorgeous scene could be the latest front in the war that pits the oil and gas industry against rural America. But it’s true: this is Ground Zero for the entry of fracking into southern Montana.

When John Mork, CEO of ECA, announced last October that his company plans to frack 50 wells in Carbon and Stillwater Counties and “bring the Bakken to the Beartooths,” it sent chills through the region. Residents here know that the cost of the oil and gas boom in the Bakken is being paid by the locals in unrecoverable environmental and social damage.

When the first fracking permit application was located right here off Silvertip Road, the battle began. The BOGC fast-tracked the permit, denying local residents and environmental organizations an opportunity for a hearing to present issues and concerns. Northern Plains Resource Council and Carbon County Resource Council quickly sued, demanding a hearing and reform of a process that is completely weighted in favor of the oil and gas industry at the expense of Montana citizens.

Because of the suit, BOGC granted a hearing, but it was all for show. The Board ignored requests from residents to modify the permit to provide property protection, and they paid no attention to expert testimony that there are very real dangers to the drilling plan: the permit does not mention hydraulic fracturing, yet it is clearly planned; there is no specification of the chemicals to be used in fracking; there is no source water specified for the millions of gallons that will be required; there are no specified disposal plans for waste water and flowback; and more.

Clarifying these things would not be onerous for ECA, yet BOGC appears willing to let the company do whatever it pleases regarding chemicals, water, and waste disposal. In the testimony the expert revealed that BOGC’s permitting standards are even lower than those recommended by the oil and gas industry. The permit was approved by a 6-1 vote.

The suit continues as Northern Plains and CCRC seek reformation of a state agency that is broken. It is simply an arm of the oil and gas industry, not a representative of the people of the state.

The Belfry community
ECA undoubtedly picked this well site because of geological considerations, but they probably didn’t know who they were dealing with. They may regret not finding out.

As beautiful as the landscape is, it is clear that people who settle here do not come to get rich. They live here because of the solitude and the beauty, to enjoy nature and to do battle with it for their existence. The growing season is short — four to five months. The risk of extreme weather in planting and harvesting threatens output every year.

Water is precious here. People dig their own wells, which go to very different depths: some eight feet, some 15 feet, some 60 feet. There is no map of the underground aquifers, so water quality is always a concern, vulnerable in unknown ways to environmental changes. There is a concern about the current water quality in Silvertip Creek, which runs through the area, but no money is available to test it. Neighbors share a common ditch for a variety of water uses, with a governing board of property owners to manage its use.

While neighbors tend to their own business, living in this rugged area creates a common bond among them. When someone is in trouble, neighbors are always right there to provide help and support.

The beginning of fracking in the area is certainly trouble, and neighbors are in action, ready to work together to protect their futures.

Oil and gas drilling in Carbon County
Oil and gas production isn’t a new issue here. The farmers and ranchers in this area have been coexisting with oil wells for decades. It is an uneasy balance, but the residents live with it. The introduction of fracking will dramatically change that balance. Instead of taking place away from their farms and ranches, fracking will bring drilling down the hill and onto their properties. This change threatens their water, their property values, and their personal health. They get that a single spill could wipe out everything they’ve worked to build and hold on to over the years.

An oil truck envelopes us in dust. Click to enlarge.
An oil truck enveloped in dust. Click to enlarge.

Heading up the two-lane dirt road to the area where oil drilling takes place, my guides and I take a few moments to enjoy the peaceful silence, punctuated only by the song of the Western Meadowlark, Montana’s state bird and the soundtrack of much of the American West. The geology is amazing, the rock cut in jagged patterns as we rise in elevation. From time to time a large oil truck passes by, breaking the silence and enveloping us in a cloud of dust that reduces visibility to zero.

Approaching the oil wells a couple of miles up the road, we smell the foul rotten egg stench of hydrogen sulfide, a byproduct of the drilling process. The smell is a stark contrast to the pure air down below, and a reminder of what it would be like if the wells moved down the hill. As we drive up Silvertip Road, the road extends through the oil country into Wyoming, where it goes all the way into Powell.

bridger oil well1The wells are sparse, one every couple of hundred yards, and they clang away to their own beat, dipping and rising as they pull oil from the earth far below. Rusty tanks hold the product of their work. The pipeline that moves the oil is visible, and its condition isn’t encouraging. We note that this is the beginning of the Silvertip pipeline that flows under the Yellowstone River, the one that broke and caused a major spill in 2011.

Carbon County Oil Production
Carbon County Oil Production, 2000 – 2013 (click to enlarge)

Carbon County is not a huge oil producing area, and this is one of a handful of small pockets of production. County-wide oil output has been declining slowly since 2000, from a high of 56,189 barrels per month in July 2000 to its current level of 31,788 barrels in August 2013. Nobody lives up here where the oil wells are, so the daily balance between the farms and ranches down below is only broken by the trucks, which leave a trail of dust behind on houses, vehicles and crops as they rumble by.

There have been a handful of oil spills here dating back to the 1970s, most recently in the 1990s, and the residue of damage from them remains. Since the populated area is downhill from the wells, the risk of spills is always in the minds of residents.

Carbon County has been unwilling to provide much help to curb the dust. When a call from a resident to Senator Tester’s office generated an immediate response from ExxonMobil, the road was oiled right away. Unfortunately the county grader came through shortly after and scraped off the oil coating. Such is life in remote oil fields. The residents know that they are on their own in protecting themselves against the heavy industry fracking would bring.

ECA permitted well site. The well pad will go near the center of the picture, to the left of the house. Click to enlarge.
ECA permitted well site. The well pad will go near the center of the picture, to the left of the house. Click to enlarge.

The ECA well site
When I got to the site of the permitted well. I imagined a big blinking neon sign that would say “FRACKING SITE,” but it is just a dry grassy field near a house. I was struck by the fact that the site is clearly a drainage area, very vulnerable to high water that could be dangerous to a water impoundment. I’m told that just a few weeks ago, when there was rapid snow melt that rushed water right through here, the water level was high and would likely have washed over an impoundment at that location.

I hear that the owners of this property, who do not own the mineral rights to the land, received a one-time payment of a few thousand dollars for access. They were persuaded that they really have no choice, which is true in split estates, and so they signed. Most of the estates in this area have been separated over the years. Many of the surface rights owners own none, some 25%, some 50% of the mineral rights.

Now that warm weather is here drilling will likely begin soon. ECA is advertising for a production foreman for the area.

What is at stake
Residents recognize that their tenuous balance with nature and oil and gas drilling depends on how broadly fracking is allowed to take place. And they don’t shy from a fight.

It’s important to understand that the people who live here are not the kind of folks who will march into a meeting holding up signs that say, “Don’t Frack My Back Yard.” They have lived with oil and gas drilling for years. They don’t expect to stop it. They know that Montana law favors mineral extraction over surface ownership. Many of them attended the meeting of the BOGC when the hearing over the permit took place. The dismissive body language of the Board members told residents all they needed to know about the contempt the Board had for their concerns.

But they also know the tenuous hold they have on their land hangs in the balance. And they’re well aware that few are fighting for them. Despite the lawsuit, they see every elected politician in Congress, in the state legislature and even the Carbon County Commission embracing the oil and gas boom as an economic growth engine. They know that they are just collateral damage.

Just another corporation
They’re also well aware that ECA is not going to be their friend or partner in this process. The company has stood up in meetings in Red Lodge and talked about corporate responsibility, but people in the area have seen ECA’s safety record in Pennsylvania and West Virginia — 66 inspections with violations, 90 separate violations, and 55 enforcement actions with fines totaling over $80,000 in Pennsylvania; 70 more violations in West Virginia. This is just another corporation wanting to exploit oil and gas. Spills, accidents and violations are just a part of doing business.

The Beartooth Pass. Click to enlarge

The Beartooth Pass. Click to enlarge

They know that nobody is going to fight for them, but they know they have to stand up for their rural way of life if it is going to survive. They’re clear on what will happen if BOGC grants every permit ECA requests with no concern over how it affects the area. It’s the same thing that has happened all over the country when the rights of citizens have been sacrificed for oil and gas drilling: their water will become contaminated and their air will be fouled. The music of the meadowlark will be drowned out 24 hours a day. Their crops will suffer and the wildlife will disappear. The destruction of the land will significantly reduce their property values. The truck traffic will congest the dirt road, leaving dust everywhere. They will need to lock their doors at night. Whatever royalties they receive for their mineral rights will eventually be gone, and their lives will never recover.

They also know that they have rights. Section 3 of the Montana Declaration of Rights, which is part of the state constitution adopted in 1972, says “the right to a clean and healthful environment” is an “inalienable” right.

What residents want
And they know what they need to hold onto their precarious balance with nature and oil and gas drilling. It’s not a long list, and it doesn’t keep mineral rights holders from getting what they want. It just makes them extract the oil in a way that preserves everyone’s rights and property. They’ve discussed it as a community, and they’re clear on what they need to protect themselves: limiting the number of well heads operating at any given time, protecting their water through constant testing and remediation, and designing and operating wells so the probability of spills and contamination is minimized.

If you think about it, these are the things the BOGC should have built into the ECA drilling permit if they were doing their jobs. It is respectful of mineral rights and surface rights, and it guarantees the citizens’ right to a clean and healthful environment.

The culture of Montana government is still rooted in the early 20th century, when mineral extraction was the only driver of the state’s economy. In the 21st century, when fracking technology endangers people’s lives, their livelihoods, and their health, it’s time for change.
******

Update from a resident, April 17: “I drove up there and sure enough they have staked the pond and have a bulldozer in there. So yes they have started. And the pond is right where I thought it would be.”

Update, April 20: I cross posted this on dailykos and was voted onto the recommended list. That will give this post wide readership.

ECA vendor taking water illegally near Belfry well

ECA vendor taking water illegally near Belfry well

Update, May 21: ECA started drilling on the well this week. Observant local residents noticed that an ECA contractor was illegally taking water from a local gravel pit without a water right and notified the Montana Department of Natural Resource Conservation (DNRC), which is responsible for issuing water rights in the state. A flood of citizens contacted the DNRC demanding that they step in to stop this.

ECA denied they were doing this, issuing a statement saying, “We have taken all necessary steps to appropriately and lawfully utilize the water being drawn from the gravel pit.”

A day later the DNRC shut them down and they were forced to purchase water from another source.

Update, June 16: Energy Corporation of America (ECA) took down the well structure at the site. They began dismantling the structure last week and hauled off the structure over the next few days. This is typical in drilling operations. The purpose is to analyze samples they have collected from their initial drilling.

Current state of well head in Belfry. Click to enlarge

Current state of well head in Belfry. Click to enlarge

Update, July 17: On July 7 ECA gave notice of “intent to perforate” the well. In addition they have filed an “intent to stimulate or chemically treat the well.”

Both of these are steps toward hydraulic fracturing. What they are doing is continued testing as they move toward fracking. This means that they have not yet made the decision to frack, but are taking steps in that direction.

According to Jim Halverson of the Montana Board of Oil and Gas (BOGC), ECA has told him that they plan on monitoring the results of the perforations for 30 days, then will apply to frack if they want to move forward.

Update, August 14: Local residents have signed petitions to submit to the Carbon County Commission at their regular meeting on Monday, August 18. The petitions request the formation of a planning and zoning commission to set up a citizen initiated zone. The zone would define highest and best management standards for drilling in the area.

Updates to come on this blog.

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Citizen initiated zoning: a way to restore fairness to oil and gas drilling in Montana

Oil and gas drilling in Montana is fundamentally unfair to landowners. Because of the way the law and institutions are structured, landowners have few rights, and the deck is stacked unfairly in favor of those who profit from oil and gas extraction.

We’ve discussed this on many occasions. Montana defines two estates for a property: the surface estate and the mineral estate. When a property owner owns both the surface and mineral rights, the estate is unified, or fee simple. More often, estates are split. Minerals have been severed from the land, either because the federal government reserved minerals in its initial homestead claims, or because the owner has sold off the mineral rights to a property.

flared well in Douglas wyoming2The dominance of mineral rights When an estate is split, mineral rights are dominant. In 1963, the Montana legislature adopted Mont. Code Ann. § 76-2-209 as part of the Montana Zoning and Planning Act (MZPA). This law effectively prohibits local governments from

prevent(ing) the complete use, development or recovery of any mineral, forest, or agricultural resource.

This is similar to laws in other Western states. The owners of natural resource rights have a protected ability to get those resources out of the ground. This puts surface owners of split estates at an unfair advantage. Every aspect of oil and gas law in the state has been constructed to protect the exploitation of mineral rights. Oil and gas companies can pay a small one-time fee to gain access to your land. Once they have access they can set up a heavy industrial operation, with heavy machinery, constant truck traffic, and 24×7 noise and light. With heavy machinery comes industrial accidents, putting a surface owner’s water, air and way of life at risk.

Impact on surface owners
The result for surface owners can be a loss of property rights, declining property values, inability to obtain mortgages, and inability to get insurance, with little compensation for damage done. When the oil operator leaves, your property can be unusable for its original purpose.

Surface owners who refuse to allow drilling on their property can be forced to participate at higher cost through the process of involuntary pooling. There are few requirements in the law for basic safeguards that would protect surface owners: water testing, well design, inspections and so on. The Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC), which has primary responsibility for permitting wells in the state, is structured to promote the drilling of wells for profit, and not to safeguard the citizens of the state.

beartooth flowersThe federal government also provides little protection. Between 1970 and 1990 there were many federal laws passed that were designed to protect our environment. Since that time the oil and gas industry has been successful in becoming exempt in very significant ways from these laws. An example is the Halliburton Loophole, passed in the Energy Act of 2005, which exempts oil and gas from having to disclose the chemicals used in fracking, which are now protected as “trade secrets.

This is a bleak picture, and we’ve told many personal stories on this blog of people whose lives have been adversely affected, not just in Montana, but in many other states as well.

How local communities can protect themselves
But Montana law provides a way for local communities to take action to protect themselves. While you can’t keep mineral rights holders from getting oil out of the ground, they can be constrained by conditions imposed by local governments. Montana counties and municipalities have authority to create special zoning districts that can impose rules for extraction activities.

The process is called citizen initiated zoning, as set forth in Montana law in MCA 76-2-101. Here’s how it works:

  • Any interested group of citizens in a county can create a zone. It is a democratic process. If 60% of the residents in an area want to create the zone, it can be brought forward to the County Commission.
  • The rules of the zone must be drafted to be consistent with the county growth plan.
  • A zone map must be created to reflect the properties to be included in the zone and define the perimeter of the zone
  • Each landowner who supports the district needs to sign a petition. The signature must match exactly the name on the title of the land.
  • When more than 60% of the landowners in the district have signed the petition, it can be brought to the County Commission.
  • After the County Commission receives the petitions, it holds a public meeting to determine whether the zone is in the “public interest and convenience.” If so, the district is established.
  • If the zone is established it is referred to a county planning and zoning commission. This is a seven member oversight board that reviews the zoning petition and recommends how it should be implemented.
  • After opportunities for public input, the planning and zoning commission puts in place the regulations for the district.
  • The planning and zoning commission is responsible for the ongoing administration of the district.

This method has been used in Montana in the past to manage mineral extraction. In 2005 Gallatin County established several permanent zoning districts to manage coalbed methane extraction in the Bozeman Pass area. Ruggiero kitchen

This is where we’re headed in Carbon County Over the last several months, since Energy Corporation of America CEO John Mork announced his plans to “bring the Bakken to the Beartooths,” this is the direction a grass roots group of citizens from Carbon County has been heading.

It is not a ban or a moratorium, but it is a way to balance the rights of surface owners and mineral owners in a way that protects property rights, water, air, and the rural and small town way of life of the area.

You’ll hear much more about this in the near future. Stay tuned and be ready to voice your support for this effort.

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