We’ll post video of the public meeting last night in Belfry and the County Commission meeting this morning.
I’m traveling and will post as soon as I can, on Sunday or Monday.
We’ll post video of the public meeting last night in Belfry and the County Commission meeting this morning.
I’m traveling and will post as soon as I can, on Sunday or Monday.
Followers of this blog will be pleased to know about a special free screening of the documentary film Triple Divide at the Cafe Regis in Red Lodge this Friday, September 19 at 6:00pm.
The film’s creators, Joshua B. Pribanic and Melissa Troutman, will be on hand to discuss the film.
The film “tells an alarming story about the downsides to fracking through personal stories, interviews with experts, and in a most exceptional way, case files of public documents uncovered during an 18-month investigation. While the sheer reality of the movie may reduce many to tears by pointing out how desperate the situation is in Pennsylvania, it will spark others with its clarion call of the major improvements needed…before this industrial process can be considered anywhere even close to ‘safe.'”
The film deals with the following subjects common to communities that experience rapid growth of oil and gas drilling:
Weak and under-enforced state regulations
Contaminated water, air, and land
Destruction of the public trust
Loss of property, investments, and standard of living
Intimidation and harassment
Lack of protection over basic human rights
Here’s the film’s trailer:
As we move toward citizen-initiated zoning to protect local land owners from poorly regulated drilling in the Silvertip area of Belfry, this film has importance locally. There has been a great deal of public discussion about Energy Corporation of America’s (ECA) poor track record of compliance in Pennsylvania, which, unlike Montana, keeps detailed compliance records online. ECA has a well-documented record of leaky impoundments, faulty cement casings, and failure to cap abandoned wells that have caused toxic wastewater to leak into local waters. Pennsylvania recently released a list of 243 water wells in the state that have been contaminated by fracking. (Actual report of ECA violations in Pennsylvania here. Actual report of contaminated wells here.)
At a recent public meeting in Red Lodge, ECA said these violations were a result of the company’s “misunderstanding” of state regulations.
Whether you’re just becoming aware of this issue or you’ve been working on it for some time, this is an event worthy of your time.
Refreshments will be served.
Other events this week:
Tonight (9/17): Community meeting in Belfry to discuss oil and gas drilling in that area. Belfry School, 7:00p
Tomorrow (9/18): County Commissioner response to Silvertip citizen-initiated zone. County Administration Building, Red Lodge, 9:30am
Yesterday landowners in the Silvertip Zone went before the County Commissioners to clarify their understanding of upcoming meetings and their expectations for the County Commissioners response to their zoning petition.
It was a spirited back and forth, with County Commissioners Doug Tucker and John Grewell stating that they believe the Silvertip landowners have the right to establish a zone as long as it is done correctly and in accordance with the law. Commissioner John Prinkki was not at the meeting.
The Commissioners promised to have a response to the petition at their regular meeting on Thursday morning. The agenda item is scheduled for 9:30am at the County Administration Building.
The Commissioners also affirmed that they plan to hold a public meeting tomorrow night (Wednesday, September 17) at 7:00 at Belfry School, where local residents will have the opportunity to be heard on the issue of drilling in that area. The Commissioners decided to hold the meeting in the evening to accommodate residents who are harvesting and not able to attend regular morning meetings.
Here is video of that discussion:
Where we are in the process
Local residents of the Silvertip area in Belfry have been working for many months to put together a citizen-initiated zone, as set forth in Montana law in MCA 76-2-101. Here’s where we are in the process:
Please attend these meetings if you can. Public input into this process is important.
This post is part of a series analyzing the ECA presentation at the Carbon County Commission last Monday.
Today’s post is rather long, but I’ve tried to present a comprehensive overview of oil and gas legislation in the state. I recommend you bookmark it and save it for future reference.
If you haven’t seen it, here’s the video of ECA’s appearance before the County Commission on Monday, September 8.
An analysis of how oil drilling is regulated in Montana
The issue of regulation came up early in the discussion at the meeting. You can view for yourself, beginning at 6:41:
Doug Tucker: I guess if you could explain a little about the regulations. There was some hearsay that there were no regulations on (unintelligible) and obviously there are, so if you could explain that.
Seth Nolte: Yeah, so currently we’re regulated by many bodies. Montana Bureau of Oil and Gas is one; the BLM, because we have some federal minerals, the DEQ, the EPA, are all different regulators that kind of monitor us and have to approve many of our permits prior to we drill anything, so we have to send the plan in to the Montana Bureau of Oil and Gas and they have to look over everything in that plan and approve it prior to us doing anything, so we are very well regulated as far as the land side, as far as the air side, as far as just everything. I mean our industry is probably one of the most regulated industries.
I’ll look at the rather astounding fact that a County Commissioner asked a junior employee of a regulated company that question tomorrow, but Seth provides the general framework for this analysis. Today I’ll look at regulation by the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Then I’ll consider how, within this framework, local citizen-initiated zoning with the County Commission is necessary.
The primary agency regulating oil drilling in Montana is the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC), which permits well, offers exemptions and writes rules.
The mission of the BOGC is threefold:
That makes it pretty clear. The word “conservation” is not about conserving natural resources, but about conserving oil and gas, and protecting the rights of mineral holders.
However, the board “also seeks to prevent oil and gas operations from harming nearby land or underground resources.” It does this in a number of ways, including “establishing spacing units, issuing drilling permits, administering bonds (required to guarantee the eventual proper plugging of wells and restoration of the surface), classifying wells, and adopting rules,” and regulating injection wells.
When a company wants to drill a well, the oil & gas operator has to apply for a permit , providing specific data about the company and other required information. BOGC staff performs a technical review of the proposal, which also goes through a public notice and hearing process. Then, the BOGC can issue, modify, or deny the permit; regulate the volume and characteristics of the fluids to be injected; and impose operational requirements or limitations for the well.
You can read the BOGC’s rules here.
Composition of the board
According to its rules, the board consists of seven members, as follows:
All are appointed to four year terms by the governor. The first four are appointed when he/she takes office, and the other three are appointed two years later.
Current board members
Current members, with city of residence, classification and date of term expiration:
Wayne Smith, Valier, Vice Chair, 1/1/17
Jack King, Billings, 1/1/15
John Evans, Butte, 1/1/17
Linda Nelson, Chair (with minerals), Medicine Lake, 1/1/17
Bret Smelser (without minerals), Sidney, 1/1/15
Ronald Efta (attorney), Wibaux, 1/1/15
Peggy Nerud, Circle, 1/1/17
How it works in reality
Now let’s look at the actual well permit for the Belfry well as an example of how this works in real life.
In October, 2013 Energy Corporation of America CEO John Mork announced in Billings that his company planned to drill 50 wells along the Beartooth Front in Carbon and Stillwater Counties. He said that hydraulic fracturing technology made this drilling economically feasible.
The company filed a permit for its first exploratory well, in Belfry, and a public hearing was scheduled for December 10 at the BOGC offices in Billings.
According to the Billings Gazette, Northern Plains Resource Council members had hand-delivered, mailed and faxed notices of a protest to the permit “weeks in advance” of the hearing.
But the hearing was cancelled after the board’s attorney said that Carbon County Resource Council members had failed to file the final document, a “service list,” an official list of the parties they had served.
So, their board hearing was canceled and the permit was granted without a hearing by the board’s administrator.
Community members were particularly angered by board member and former Sidney mayor Bret Smelser, who lectured them in what they felt was an arrogant way about the importance of oil and gas drilling to the state’s economy, and, as one community member reported, the need to “put up with a few inconveniences” to support US energy independence.
It’s worth pointing out that Smelser’s family business, Border Steel and Recycling, has thrived during the Bakken oil boom, expanding to to include three Montana locations in Glendive, Sidney and Plentywood plus one in Williston, ND. And that one of the “inconveniences” Smelser is willing to put up with was a non-functional sewage system caused by illegal waste dumping in Sidney, where Smelser was mayor at the time.
Northern Plains Resource Council and Carbon County Resource Council quickly filed suit demanding the permit be revoked and a hearing held.
Charles Sangmeister Chair of the Stillwater Protective Association observed that, “This oil well is the beginning of what ECA says could be a large development in Carbon and Stillwater counties. We have many members whose lives and property will be directly affected by both this well and the others along the Beartooth Front and Bighorn Basin. That’s why we couldn’t stand for the BOGC to simply keep the public from testifying on this permit.”
We documented the concern about the introduction of fracking onto the Beartooth Front in this post, which looks in detail at how the local community would be impacted by the permitted well.
At the public hearing, several members of the public spoke and asked the board to acknowledge the environmental risks of using hydraulic fracking at the well site, where groundwater was positioned both above and below the shale belt through which ECA intends to drill. Witnesses also asked the board to consider the road dust and soil erosion. They asked that area water be tested throughout the project’s lifespan to assure the water supply wasn’t fouled.
The consultant made a number of recommendations for changes in design of the well, for industry best practices to be followed in well design, and for the use of more advanced technology than was being proposed at the site.
What the BOGC did
As you read through the public and expert testimony, you can see that these are real property owners who have legitimate concerns and are asking for help from the state. They’re not trying to stop drilling; they’re trying to preserve their property, their water supplies, and their ability to make a living. They’re asking the BOGC to take action to protect Montana citizens, as they are empowered to do.
So what did the BOGC do? Well, they completely ignored all the public and expert input, and went ahead and approved the permit as submitted, without any discussion, by a 6-1 vote, with Peggy Nerud dissenting.
Tom Richmond, BOGC administrator at the time, said there was nothing exceptional about the Belfry well. “The ECA permit proposes drilling a wildcat well, much like the other 35,000 wildcat wells drilled in Montana that have produced oil and gas over the years,” Richmond said.
“There’s nothing special with what’s proposed here that would require special conditions or stipulations.”
What Richmond didn’t say is that, according to Montana regulations adopted in 2011, when ECA decides to fracture the well, which their CEO publicly announced they planned to do and which the expert testimony said is highly likely, they need to provide notification to the BOGC only 48 hours in advance, with no public notification required, as follows:
(2) For wildcat or exploratory wells or when the operator is unable to determine that hydraulic fracturing, acidizing, or other chemical treatment will be done to complete the well, the operator must submit a notice of intent to stimulate or chemically treat a well on Form No. 2 prior to commencing such activities provided that:
(a) the written information describing the fracturing, acidizing, or other chemical treatment must be provided to the board’s staff at least 48 hours before commencement of well stimulation activities.
In other words, the BOGC treated this like any other well permit, knowing that public concerns about hydraulic fracturing are legitimate and that fracking is highly likely to occur.
Members of the public later called the experience “exasperating.” The BOGC board didn’t even make a show of honoring public input. The body language of the members, which included walking out during testimony, turning away from the presenters and eye rolling, was exaggerated and offensive.
In retrospect, we can see this playing out as we expected. ECA has filed an “intent to perforate” the well, a precursor to fracking, as indicated below. You can find the notice by clicking on the graphic.
Why the BOGC is inadequate to protect the rights of Silvertip landowners
The BOGC is the fox guarding the henhouse. The board cannot serve two conflicting interests. Its primary mission to maximize the profits of the oil and gas industry and mineral rights holders. If it does that, the interests of surface rights holders, like those in the Silvertip area, to protect their property values and conserve water cannot be supported.
The BOGC does not have the resources to protect the safety of citizens of Montana even if it had the inclination. Right now the BOGC has only seven inspectors for the entire state — two in Billings, two in Shelby, and one each in Miles City, Sidney and Plentywood. According to the a study done by the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), this number has grown by only one inspector since 1999. while the number of active wells in Montana has grown by 54% during that time.
Enforcement is also a problem. While the number of violations issued by Montana state inspectors more than doubled from 2004-2011, there’s no teeth in it. According to the WORC study, there were only 26 fines issued in the state over the four-year period from 2007-2010, with total fines issued of $18,950 over those four years.
By comparison, keep in mind that ECA alone received 90 citations in Pennsylvania with fines over $80,000.
This is the key reason why the Silvertip Zone is a necessity. With three BOGC members coming from the oil and gas industry and another a mineral rights holder, you start with four votes from members who have a financial interest in the expansion of oil and gas drilling. If the governor is not careful in the appointment of the other three, there is a danger of a runaway board that acts only in the interest of the industry.
The Silvertip landowners have a legitimate right to form a zone to protect their rights, and they have reason to believe that, absent a zone, their rights will be violated.
The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) plays a minor role in oil regulation. The agency requires an air quality permit from oil and gas wells, but it is up to the operator to decide if a well meets the minimum emission requirement for a permit. “The air quality operation fee for…registered oil and gas well facilities is based on the actual, or estimated actual, amount of air pollutants emitted by the facility during the previous calendar year and is an administrative fee of $800, plus $38.24 per ton of PM-10 (particulate matter), sulfur dioxide, lead, oxides of nitrogen, and volatile organic compounds emitted.” It is up to the operator to determine whether it meets the minimum requirements for emissions.
Operators are also required by the DEQ to get a permit for “storm water discharge associated with construction activity.”
According to Northern Plains Resource Council, ECA has not applied for either permit in Carbon or Stillwater County, but other drilling rigs in eastern Montana usually do.
The DEQ also requires the reporting of spills, as outlined below:
A. The following types of spills must be reported to DEQ/DES:
- Releases or spills of hazardous substances in amounts that meet or exceed the reportable quantities in 40 CFR Part 302. Notification to DES and NRC is required.
- Spills, overfills, and suspected releases from underground storage tanks and petroleum storage tanks. ARM 17.56.501, et seq.
- Releases or spills of any materials that would lower the quality of groundwater below water quality standards. ARM 17.30.1045.
B. The following types of spills should be reported to DEQ/DES:
- Spills that enter or may enter state water or a drainage that leads directly to surface water;
- Spills that cause sludge or emulsion beneath the surface of the water, streambanks or shorelines;
- Spills that cause a film, “sheen,” or change the color of the water, streambanks or shorelines; or
- Spills of twenty-five (25) gallons or more of any petroleum product such as: crude oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, aviation fuel, asphalt, road oil, kerosene, fuel oil; produced water, injection water, or combination thereof; and derivatives of mineral, animal, or vegetable oils.
These regulations are all administrative. Clearly there are few landowner protections in built into DEQ requirements.
(Thanks to Maggie Zaback for her help with this section.)
The BLM and EPA are not relevant to this discussion. None of the Silvertip Zone is on BLM land, and so there is no regulation that matters in this discussion
The EPA does not regulate oil and gas wells, although it does get involved if there is a big enough accident that the state cannot handle it on its own. The EPA is charged with monitoring injection wells, but, as we’ve seen, the agency does not have the resources to do this job.
Montana law provides a way for local communities to take action to protect themselves in ways that other regulation does not. 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:
This method has been used in Montana in the past to manage mineral extraction.
The landowners in the Silvertip District have followed steps 1-5, and it is now up to the County Commissioners to form a planning and zoning commission to consider the request.
Tomorrow: The role of the County Commission and where we stand today.
This post is part of a series analyzing the ECA presentation at the Carbon County Commission this week.
As I see it, the interaction between a company that is planning major industrial operations and the community in which they plan to operate comes down to mutual respect, trust, and legal protections. That is the lens I am using to look at the interaction.
If you haven’t seen it, here’s the video of ECA’s appearance before the County Commission on Monday, September 8.
On the ECA safety record in other states:
Regular readers know that we have made a big deal out of ECA’s poor compliance record in other states on the blog, and ECA’s response in the meeting underscores why that is important.
To refresh your memory, ECA has a publicly documented record of serious violations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Specifically, ECA has had 66 state inspections with violations, 90 separate violations, 55 enforcement actions and fines of over $80,000 in Pennsylvania, and 70 more violations in West Virginia.
In the meeting, here’s how the conversation about those violations went (watch it yourself starting at 10:26):
John Grewell: Can either of you comment on, you’ve had issues in Pennsylvania?
Jennifer Vieweg: Yeah, that’s something that is not well understood. It’s very different from anywhere else and here’s why:
The industry changed dramatically in Pennsylvania in about 2007-2008. Regulations changed constantly, regulators weren’t even quite sure what the regulations were. The industry, because the regulators didn’t know what the regulations were, it was hard for the industry to know what the regulations were, they were constantly changing so it was very hard to remain in compliance. All of that’s evened out over the last three years or so. Things have evened out. The industry understands what the regulations are, the regulators understand what they are, and, as such, you don’t see any of the same kind of issues as when it was constantly changing. There was a lot of misunderstanding with regard to the regulations.
John Grewell: So I guess in layman’s terms, were the rules changing?
Jennifer Vieweg: Yes. The rules were constantly changing. So once the legislature put together a consistent, they call it Act 13. Once they put that body together it’s been far easier for the regulators and for those in the industry to make sure we stay in compliance.
Let’s be as clear about this as we can, because the Commissioners should not allow the company to get away with telling a story that can be checked so easily, and that can be proven to be completely false. ECA has a very poor compliance record in Pennsylvania. I urge you and the Commissioners to read the report for yourself.
Violations during the “misunderstanding” period
Here are some examples of violations that occurred in the period 2008 – 2010, which Jennifer dismisses as “misunderstandings”:
Folks, these are not misunderstandings:
Violations after things “evened out”
But giving ECA the benefit of the doubt for a moment, since they say that in the last three years they now understand the law, let’s look at some violations from their file over the last three years, when they say things have “evened out.” Here are some violations over the last three years:
I’m not an expert in these things, but those look like pretty much the same laws and the same violations as in the period when everybody misunderstood the law. These practices have nothing to with understanding, but with shoddy practices that put landowners at risk of water contamination.
Why this is important
The reason why this is particularly important is that Pennsylvania is unique in the detail of records they make available to the public. It is the one place we get a real window into public data about how an individual operator has complied with the law.
In Montana, by contrast, there are no inspection results available online. In fact, last month Northern Plains Resource Council sued the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) demanding that they uphold the Montana State Constitution by making information regarding the impacts of oil and gas drilling available to the public.
What’s more, the BOGC does not have the resources to protect the safety of citizens of Montana even if it had the inclination. Right now the BOGC has only seven inspectors for the entire state — two in Billings, two in Shelby, and one each in Miles City, Sidney and Plentywood. According to the a study done by the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), this number has grown by only one inspector since 1999. while the number of active wells in Montana has grown by 54% during that time.
Enforcement is also a problem. While the number of violations issued by Montana state inspectors more than doubled from 2004-2011, there’s no teeth in it. According to the WORC study, there were only 26 fines issued in the state over the four-year period from 2007-2010, with total fines issued of $18,950 over those four years (page 18).
So when Justin Noble and Jennifer Vieweg say ECA has an exemplary recordin Montana (“as far as I know”), there’s no way to tell whether that’s true or not. What is publicly available about their safety record for the five wells they currently operate in Roscoe? Nothing.
A matter of trust
This brings us back around to the issue of trust. This is a company that has a terrible compliance record in the one state that publishes those records for the public. They won’t tell us their plans for the Beartooth Front. They won’t commit to design specifications. They won’t tell the truth about their poor record of compliance in Pennsylvania.
Should the residents of the Silvertip community trust them with their land and water? Would you?
The Commissioners have access to this report. They should read and understand that this is a key reason why we need a citizen initiated zone, as the residents of the Silvertip area have requested. They should ask hard questions, and demand real answers, not carefully planned evasions dreamed up by a PR guru from West Virginia.
The video of Monday’s Carbon County Commission meeting is very revealing and worth looking at in detail. I’m going to do three posts commenting on Energy Corporation of America’s (ECA) presentation at the meeting, providing my interpretation of what was said and not said. As I see it, the interaction between a company that is planning major industrial operations and the community in which they plan to operate comes down to mutual respect, trust, and legal protections. That is the lens I will be using to look at the interaction.
The topics I will discuss:
If you haven’t seen it, here’s the video of ECA’s appearance before the County Commission on Monday, September 8.
ECA involvment in the Beartooth Front community
ECA has not been publicly forthcoming about its plans for the Beartooth Front. Since CEO John Mork and Director Peter Coors came to Billings to announce the opening of an office there, we have heard nothing publicly from the company about what its specific plans are.
The company did not appear at a hearing of the Montana Board of Oil and Gas regarding the permit in Belfry. They have built a large well pad in Dean, and have provided no information about what they intend to do with it. In June, when they were drilling the Belfry well, we heard publicly from the company only to issue a denial that they had done anything illegal.
So it was big news among local landowners when they agreed to come to the County Commissioners meeting on Monday to provide an overview of their plans. Local residents are very concerned about this issue. They’ve been studying and organizing for a year in response to the company’s one single announcement last October. A lot of them showed up to find out what the company had to say, and the video of the meeting is already one of the most popular posts on this blog. People want to know.
At a big event like this, the company sends strong signals about its importance by its choice of who to send to make the presentation. If it is an important event, like the opening of an office in Billings, the company sends John Mork and Peter Coors.
I don’t want to demean the two people the company sent to this meeting in any way. Seth Nolte, the Project Manager for the Belfry well, did a good job with what he had to work with. He is local, and, according to Internet profiles, was a star student in high school and college who flew out to West Virginia to join ECA three years ago. He was poised and as open as he was allowed to be in his presentation. Jennifer Vieweg is an ECA community relations representative who flew out to the meeting from the company’s Charleston, West Virginia office.
We’ve heard from these two before. They were central players in the dispute with local landowners over water use at the Belfry well site in June. In a nutshell, Seth hired a local contractor to haul water to the site. The contractor took water without a right from a local gravel pit. Neighbors complained to the Montana Department of Natural Resources, Jennifer issued a statement denying ECA was doing anything wrong, and the DNRC quickly shut the contractor down, leaving Seth to ask, “What am I supposed to do?” You can read all about it here.
So, our only interaction with two people asking us to trust their company with our precious water involves their complete misunderstanding of Montana water law.
This is not their fault.
However, it is ECA’s fault that they didn’t send someone senior and knowledgeable who could discuss the company’s plans and answer questions. The person they should have sent is Peter Sullivan, the company’s Vice President of Exploration. Mr. Sullivan would have been familiar with all these issues and could have been open and specific about every question raised.
Bringing local residents out to a public meeting and sending representatives who are unable to provide any detail, especially after the company has been silent for nearly a year after announcing big plans, is disrespectful. If you’re going to engage, you should have enough respect to give community members the information they want. Showing respect establishes trust and forms the basis for a fair legal relationship.
What signals is the company sending? It’s pretty obvious they don’t want us to know what they’re up to. This is not a position that inspires trust.
ECA’s “local” philanthropic commitment
At the outset of his presentation Seth touted ECA’s commitment to the community. He highlighted the ECA Foundation’s $100,000 grant to ACE Scholarships Montana (ACE). ACE scholarships fund private school tuition for needy K-12 students. Julie Mork, Managing Director of the ECA Foundation, says that this is “indicative of our commitment to the communities where we operate.”
There is a problem with this. To my knowledge, there are no K-12 private schools in Carbon or Stillwater Counties. So this demonstration of commitment is certainly wonderful for some needy students in Montana, but it won’t matter a lick to residents along the Beartooth Front.
To confirm this, I called the Montana ACE office and talked to Sarah Laszloffy, who told me that ACE gave out scholarships to 658 Montana students last year and hopes to give out over 700 this year. Locations of students receiving the scholarships? Here’s a complete list: Libby, Whitefish, Kalispell, Polson, Missoula, Hamilton, Helena, Butte, Manhattan, Bozeman, Belgrade, Livingston, Billings, Great Falls, Havre, Glendive and Miles City.
Zero local impact.
You have to wonder about a company so tone deaf that its top officers don’t even know enough about the Beartooth Front to recognize that its awesome philanthropic commitment will mean nothing to local residents.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
American Petroleum Institute “good neighbor” standards
The American Petroleum Institute (API) has defined “good neighbor” standards for its members in dealing with local communities. The standards outline key principles for communication, including:
If you read these, you can see that ECA has not followed a single standard. The company has no interest in being a good neighbor according to the standards of its own industry organization. Their interest is in getting their oil out, and holding the community at bay until they’re done.
Being a good neighbor means something along the Beartooth Front
The concept of corporate good neighbor policies has great meaning along the Beartooth Front. The Good Neighbor Agreement with the Stillwater Mining Company is a legally binding contract that has established a process for citizens to regularly meet with company representatives to address and prevent problems related to mining impacts, reclamation, wildlife, and other issues. It set aside land in conservation easements, instituted a program to reduce traffic on winding valley roads, and provided for independent environmental audits.
The Good Neighbor Agreement has demonstrated that it’s possible to run a responsible, profitable mining operation while protecting natural resources. The reason the community was able to negotiate this agreement is that, unlike ECA, the Mine is in the community for the long term. They have a small number of locations, their employees live in the community and send their children to local schools, and as a result the company and its employees have to live with the consequences of the way they run their business. It makes sense to work with the community as good neighbors.
It’s all about respect and trust
These are all little things, you say? These little things say a lot. They all add up to a lack of ECA respect for the community. If this community were important to ECA, they would send a senior executive. They would be transparent. They would abide by API good neighbor guidelines, and they would commit to the community in a meaningful way, not by throwing a small portion of their expected profit into a fund that has zero local impact.
Despite this, what they are asking us to do, in effect, is trust them with our most precious possessions — our land, our water, our air, our health.
Why would we do that?
The whole point of the Silvertip Citizen Initiated Zone is to establish necessary legal protections against ECA’s lack of concern for our welfare. A legally binding approach is exactly what has worked so well in Stillwater County. This kind of approach doesn’t keep them from getting their oil. It keeps us from becoming a victim of their lack of respect. As Ronald Reagan once said, “Trust, but verify.”
It’s much easier to trust when you establish a sound legal basis for doing so.
Tomorrow: The ECA presentation and the issue of the company’s poor compliance track record in other states.
Yesterday Energy Corporation of America representative Seth Nolte made a presentation at the Carbon County Commissioners meeting in Red Lodge. All three Commissioners and a good crowd of local citizens were on hand.
I just received this in the middle of the night so I haven’t had a chance to review it. I know people want to see it so I’ll post it now and make comments later in a separate post.
A reminder that Energy Corporation of America (ECA) will be making a presentation in Red Lodge on Monday morning, September 8, at 10am. Please attend if you can. It is important to hear what they have to say. More information here.
We’re not going to hear from ECA Chief Executive Officer John Mork on Monday, but to give you a sense of where ECA is coming from, I found this lecture given by Mork at the West Virginia University College of Business last fall. The speech was given just a few weeks before he arrived in Billings to announce that ECA was going to “bring the Bakken” to the Beartooths.
The speech is mostly unremarkable. It’s one of those “work hard and get ahead” kinds of speeches, but it’s also revealing in what it tells about the company and Mork’s views about energy.
In the first 25 minutes he talks about the development of ECA and how he went from flat broke to running what he says is the 39th largest oil and gas operation in the country. It’s a glowing picture of a company that has a small number of employees in whom they invest, and who show tremendous loyalty in return. He is clearly a successful entrepreneur wiho has put his personal stamp on ECA and become very wealthy building the company from scratch.
As he progresses, he gets into a description of the Marcellus Shale, above which WVU sits. He describes it as the second biggest gas field in the world, and “only about five percent developed.”
He describes the fracking revolution, and confirms that it’s really not the fracking that has “changed the world,” but horizontal drilling, which enables much more extraction in a smaller space:
“We are contacting way more surface area. It’s about contact” through horizontal drilling. Comparing an old well in West Virginia vs. a new well horizontally drilled, you get about 50 times the gas for about 12 times the cost.”
Description of the impacts of fracking
What I recommend you listen to is his description of the impacts of fracking on the environment. It starts at 28:47, and runs until about 31:20. I’ve done my best to transcribe the relevant sections below:
“What we do, we inject fresh water and sand into the ground with some chemicals that reduce friction…, we inject 4 million pounds of sand and 3-4 million gallons of water, and less than 5% chemicals….The chemicals we use in fracking are petty simple….We use a surfactant to reduce the friction. That would be the same thing you use to wash your hands with, soap you washed your hands with this morning, washed your dishes with last night, We use an anti-bacterial agent to kill the bacteria in the water that is naturally near the surface, that would be the Purell you use on your hands, and we use a guar gum…to thicken things up a little bit so it’ll carry the sand….That is actually the product that thickens your yogurt….
“And if any of you want to see exactly what chemicals we put in these things you go on the Internet because we post everything…that (we) pump in the ground.
“Another statistic that I love to tell, we have fracked over 10,000 times and never had an environmental problem…Statistically we are so far ahead on this that this is just not a question to us.
“One of the reasons we’re so sure, we cement 3/4 of an inch, three strings of heavy steel pipe between the fresh water and where we’re fracking so we’ve got multiple barriers, and we monitor all that,…and the fracking, we’re down at 5,000 feet, and everybody says, ‘Maybe you’ll frack into the fresh water at 100 feet.’ We’re really lucky if we frack 200 feet from the well bore.
“So for me, this is just a non-item.”
He says all this with a straight face, like it’s actually true.
When I listen to a guy like John Mork say things that are so demonstrably false, I wonder whether he is just lying, or he has somehow convinced himself that they are true. He obviously knows his business inside and out. If he thinks about these things, he knows they’re not true. Maybe he just doesn’t think about them.
Examining the truth
But it’s our mission here to make sure you know the truth, so let’s parse some of these statements and make sure you know why they are wrong:
Violation 60075, 12/10/2010: “Failure to report defective, insufficient, or improperly cemented casing w/in 24 hours or submit plan to correct within 30 days.” (page 22)
So we won’t see John Mork on Monday, but now we certainly know the ECA company line. Come on out on Monday at 10am to hear their version of the truth, but don’t expect it to match yours. And don’t be afraid to ask them questions to try to determine what they really plan to do along the Beartooth Front.
This personal story is one of a series on this blog chronicling the impact of the oil and gas boom on the lives of people all over North America. You can see other personal stories in our series by clicking here.
Some of the most compelling stories come unfiltered from the people affected. Today’s post comes from a speech given by Jaime Frederick on January 10, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. You can read the story, which is a transcription of the speech, or watch the video at the end of the post.
Jaime’s tale of the complete violation of her privacy, her rights, and her health by a system designed to protect the rights of the oil and gas industry at the expense of individuals is terrifying, and worth paying attention to as we look at the possibility of expanded oil drilling along the Beartooth Front.
A personal story: Jaime Frederick, Coitsville, Ohio
My name is Jaime Frederick and I’m from Coitsville, Ohio. Shortly after moving into my home in Coitsville outside of Youngstown, three years ago, I began to get seriously ill. I started vomiting on a regular basis and had intense abdominal pains everyday. After numerous trips to six different doctors, and several emergency room visits, test revealed that my gall bladder had completely failed. No gallstones, it had just stopped working, and no one could tell me why. I had my gall bladder taken out but continue to have what seems to be a never ending intestinal flu. It became so bad, that I soon developed an infection in my intestine, as large as a grapefruit, that ate through to the outside of my skin.
When I was finally admitted to the hospital, doctors said that I would have been dead in a few days if I had not come in when I did. They were baffled, and could only tell me this should not be happening to a healthy 30-year-old woman, and that this condition is typically only found in third world countries. Over the course of the next two years, I underwent a series of five more surgeries in an attempt to repair the damage that had been caused by the infection. I continued to get violently ill, and had elevated kidney and liver numbers, kidney infections, pain throughout my body, trouble breathing, rapid heartbeat, and many other unexplained symptoms.
I continue to search for answers, seeing 18 different doctors in total, who continue to misdiagnose and scratch their heads. Some told me that I was just stressed out, and that when you are stressed out you dehydrate and that I should drink as much water as possible. I know now that this advice nearly killed me. As we burned through our savings with thousands of dollars of medical bills, the answers never came as to why this was happening to me.
It wasn’t until a few months ago when the convoys of trucks and drilling equipment began rolling down our once lonely, quiet road, did the answers to my medical mystery unfold. The neighboring property owner, who lives out of town, had signed a gas lease before we even moved there, and never bothered to tell us. Out of the 62 acres signed off by my neighbor, that the best place to drill would be right by my home, about as close as the law would allow them.
As we scrambled to learn all that we could about what was happening to us, what rights we had, or didn’t, and how to stop it, we discovered that a special type of water test, a Tier 3 test, would have to be done to establish a baseline before the drilling began, and that we would have to pay for it ourselves. The cheapest test offered was $500. We managed to get the test done only two days before they started drilling. Our baseline tests revealed high levels of contaminants that are a result of the hydraulic fracturing and drilling process, such as high levels of barium, strontium, toluene and several others that I will not try to pronounce. The mystery was now solved. This was why I had been so sick for so long, and my dogs as well. At the time when I was most sick, I was drinking over two gallons of this water unfiltered each day.
As we dug deeper, we discovered that several wells had already been drilled and were tucked quietly away in the woods that surrounded our home and other properties. This was never disclosed to us when we bought the house. My husband never got sick because he hardly ever drank the water at home. I always bugged him to drink more water, and I’m glad now that like most husbands, he never listened to me. It’s hard to say which one of the 10 wells within a half-mile, 15 within a mile, actually caused the contamination. It only takes one bad well to poison a water table that can sometimes stretch out for over a mile. In some places that’s a lot of homes. As bad as this all sounds, the worst has yet to come.
Living through the drilling and fracking phase of the most recent well was a truly terrifying experience. We were given no notice whatsoever as to what was about to happen to us, and had nowhere to evacuate to with our three dogs and cats. We felt like we were trapped in someone’s idea of a sick joke. 24-7 nonstop, we were subjected to such unbelievable levels of noise that you can only understand if you’ve heard it for yourself. It would have been more peaceful to live on an airport runway. We couldn’t sleep for days at a time, and when we did it was only short naps in between explosions. We tried using earplugs, covered by these headphones, while listening to the radio, and could still plainly hear it. Worse yet, we could feel it, as a constant vibration through the house. That was just the drilling.
The actual fracking lasted about three days. Now that I get to live through Youngstown’s injection well earthquakes, I can tell you that is what it is similar to. Dishes rattling in the cupboards, pictures falling off the wall, cracking sounds in the basement. Like so many of you, I’m sure, I love my dogs with all my heart. I’ve never seen them so terrified, and hope I never will again. They cowered together in a corner, shaking uncontrollably for days. They would not go outside and they would not eat. I was unable to do anything to help them other than put a radio near them in hopes of masking the noise and calming them down.
The gas storage tanks, and radioactive toxic waste tanks… I refuse to call it brine, I’m sorry, because that was just a lie, that is not what it is. These tanks have been placed closer to my home than the well itself. They are right outside my bedroom window and just uphill from a fresh artesian spring on my property. The overflow hose that comes out of the radioactive toxic waste tank goes directly onto the ground and this is permitted because they get to lie and call it brine. I would not soak my pickles or my turkey in this. They are also permitted to bury to toxic wastewater pit on my neighbor’s property, just uphill from our home.
The gas storage tank is now hooked up and under high pressure. It regularly releases the pressure, putting the toxic fumes into the air and makes a lot of noise. It will do this for at least six more months. A smell similar to rotten eggs and diesel fumes hangs heavy in the air. ODNR tells me it is perfectly safe, and that I am in more danger breathing in the air in a parking lot. First of all, I don’t live in a parking lot. And secondly, when I do park my car in a parking lot it is not covered in an oily mist like now falls over our property and is seen easily on our house and car windows. I’m sure this is perfectly safe too, right ODNR?
Everyone asks me why I am not more upset with my neighbor and why I don’t sue him. I tell them because not only do we have no rights, but that I feel that he was taken advantage of by BoCor gas. They forced him to sign a lease when he was intoxicated, with no notary present. And they told him it would be no bigger operation than drilling a water well, and that the only thing left behind would be the size of a garbage can and surrounded by trees that they would plant. All lies, and there are still no trees. They also buried the radioactive toxic waste pit in the exact location where he told them he planning to build a home to retire in. BoCor also managed to rip him off to the tune of $300,000 in acreage payments. He said that if he knew then what he knows now, that he never would have signed and that he is very sorry. They have already destroyed the land that has been in his family for generations, dating back to the early 1800’s, and they are just getting started.
Our little house, in the middle of the woods, will soon be in the middle of a toxic wasteland, as they prepare to cut down the remaining trees to put in the pipelines and compressor stations that will eventually connect the wells. Our property value has been reduced from $125,000 to nothing, overnight. 47 wells, including injection wells, already cover the 12 square miles that is Coitsville, even surrounding the wildlife preserve.
We have already had a blowout of at least one well, a chemical spill, and a tear in a waste pit liner. And again, they are only getting started. I haven’t retested the water since the last well was drilled, but I have a feeling it didn’t make it cleaner. Even if I wanted to have it retested, we have nothing left, having spent every penny on water testing, water filtration equipment, medical bills, and renovating a home we thought we were going to raise a family in. We now check our faucets daily with a lighter, and we’re still hopeful because it hasn’t ignited, yet. I am feeling much better these days, and so are my dogs since we stopped drinking the water. My liver and kidney numbers have improved, though much damage has been done. I have developed kinetic tremors in my hands as a result of the neurological side effects of some of the chemicals.
But the worst side effect caused by the damage is my inability to safely carry a child, without the risk of hemorrhage or even death. Even if I could somehow still give birth, knowing the high risk of birth defects caused by the chemicals I drank. I will never take that risk. At the time when I was most sick, drinking the most water, I lay on the bathroom floor, night after night, thinking I would surely be dead soon. Throwing up until the blood vessels in my eyes and cheeks were burst. At that time, I did not know what fracking was, or that I was being deliberately poisoned. But I do now.
And I have a message for you Governor Kasic, and you Mr. Gasman, you may have taken my safety and my property value, you may have taken my gall bladder, and you may have taken my ability to have children, but you will not take my voice. And I will not stop until you stop. We will not stop until you stop.
Here’s a rare opportunity to hear from the horse’s mouth what’s going on with oil drilling along the Beartooth Front.
Energy Corporation of America (ECA) is on the agenda for the Carbon County Commission meeting on Monday, September 8 at 10:00 am. The Commission agenda item describes their presentation as a “Carbon County/Beartooth Front Plan Brief.”
The meeting will be held in the Carbon County Commissioners Hearing Room at 17 West 11th Street in Red Lodge.
ECA is the Denver-based operator that announced last fall a plan to “bring the Bakken to the Beartooths” and drill 50 wells in the area. The first of those wells, near Belfry, was permitted by the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) earlier this year, and is currently being evaluated for fracking.
The well sparked considerable controversy in June when local residents caught an ECA vendor taking water from a local gravel pit without a water right and the Montana Department of Natural Resources had them shut down.
You can read a history of ECA involvement with this well here.
ECA has a reputation for being a serial polluter in states where they have operated in the past. In Pennsylvania alone, according to the State Department of Environmental Protection, ECA has had 66 state inspections with violations, 90 separate violations, 55 enforcement actions and fines of over $80,000 (read the actual report here). The company has been cited for 70 more violations in West Virginia. Pennsylvania recently released a list of 243 wells that have been contaminated by oil and gas operations. It is not yet known how many of these wells were contaminated by ECA.
Concerns about ECA and their plans to drill in Belfry led local residents to form the Silvertip Zone, a citizen-initiated special district that would develop, through a planning and zoning committee, special rules requiring ECA and other operators to adhere to highest and best management practices in conducting drilling operations.
This will be a rare public appearance by ECA, which has ignored American Petroleum Institute “good neighbor” standards, and has not interacted with local residents. The company has been publicly secretive about its plans for Carbon and Stillwater Counties.
We’ll provide information about the format of the meeting when we have it, but it’s important for residents of Carbon and Stillwater Counties to come out to show public concern for the damage that unregulated drilling will cause. Get your questions prepared and come on out. It’s an opportunity to show your support for the residents of Belfry and hear for yourself what ECA is willing to tell us about their plans.