10 questions for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on energy and climate change

We have now been through four debates in this election cycle — three for president and one for vice president — and there has not been a single question posed to either candidate on energy and climate change.

At Preserve the Beartooth Front, we believe that this is the key issue facing the United States over the next 20-30 years. It is central not only to energy policy, but to economic development, national security, immigration, infrastructure, and much more.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during the presidential debate with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Rick T. Wilking/Pool via AP)

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during the presidential debate with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Rick T. Wilking/Pool via AP)

It is deeply concerning that these issues have not taken center stage in the campaign. Failure to debate them publicly lessens our chances of coming to consensus about a course of action that will enable the US to become an effective leader in reducing the impacts of climate change, and to transform our economy to take advantage of the dramatic shifts in energy technology that will occur in the coming decades.

We have tracked the candidates’ positions on energy and climate change for over a year, and have many questions we would pose to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump if we had the chance. Here are ten. Please feel free to contribute your own in comments.

  1. What is the role of science in developing energy and climate policy? How will you reconcile the gap between climate science and the public’s perception (and Congress’) of that science?
  2. What specific policies, e.g. carbon tax, incentives for adoption of efficient energy technology, stimulus, would you propose to accelerate the adoption of clean energy technologies?
  3. What is the role of fracking in the transition of US energy policy to clean energy?
  4. What is an achievable timeline for the transition of US energy utilization from fossil fuels to clean energy? How does this apply specifically to coal, natural gas, and oil?
  5. How will you ensure US compliance with the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015? Is compliance with this agreement sufficient to avert the negative impacts of climate change?
  6. Science has shown that fracking has disproportionately negative environmental and community health impacts on the communities in which it takes place. What rights should local communities have to regulating fracking?
  7. For Hillary Clinton: You have proposed aggressive targets for adoption of solar, wind and other technologies, yet have not made this an issue in the campaign and have proposed no plan for action on this in your first year in office. Is this a serious goal, and, if so, how do you plan to achieve it?
  8. For Donald Trump: You have previously stated that climate change was “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Please state whether you believe that
    1. Global temperature rise is occurring?
    2. If it is occurring, to what extent is it manmade?
    3. If it is manmade, what is the role of government in developing policies to address it?
  9. Describe your vision for energy use in the US in 2030. How will transportation, home energy use, and infrastructure be different from today?
  10. Your grandchildren will likely be alive in the year 2100. Science tells us that if we do not act quickly, climate change will cause major impacts in their lifetimes in sea level rise, drought, food and water availability, and more. Have you given any thought to what you will tell them about your role in keeping that from happening?
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The state of Oklahoma would rather pray for oilfields than regulate them

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin

Sometimes items show up in my mailbox that I have a hard time believing. But the oil and gas industry often defies belief, and today’s item gave me pause.

Seems Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has issued an executive proclamation designating October 13 as Oilfield Prayer Day. The proclamation goes like this:

Whereas, Oklahoma is blessed with an abundance of oil and natural gas, allowing the state to be a prosperous producer of these valuable resources; and

Whereas Christians acknowledge such natural resources are created by God; and

Whereas the oil and gas industry continues to produce countless opportunities for wealth generation for Oklahoma families; and

Whereas Oklahoma recognizes the incredible economic, community and faith-based impacts demonstrated across the state by oil and natural gas companies; and

Whereas Christians are invited to thank God for the blessing created by the oil and natural gas industry and to seek His wisdom and ask for protection; now, therefore, I, Mary Fallin, Governor, do hereby proclaim October 13, 2016, as “Oilfield Prayer Day” in the state of Oklahoma.

I sure hope that the good Lord doesn’t send down one of his earthquakes on Thursday. It might shake the locals into realizing that an understanding of science, proper regulation, and a tax policy that makes oil billionaires pay for the damage they are doing to the state might do as much good as all those prayers.

It’s important to remain vigilant about the extent to which the oil and gas industry extends its tentacles into our lives to prevent responsible management of their activities.

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As a killer hurricane descends on Florida, a reminder that it is time to act on global warming in Montana

As I write this, Hurricane Matthew is bearing down on Florida’s eastern coast. It is a killer Category 4 storm, with 140 mph winds. It has already caused extreme devastation in Haiti, leaving over 250 people dead and many more homeless. According to the National Weather Service on Thursday afternoon, “Extremely dangerous, life-threatening weather conditions are forecast in the next 24 hours. Airborne debris lofted by extreme winds will be capable of breaching structures, unprotected windows and vehicles.”

The Governor of Florida has told 1.5 million people to leave their homes, saying, “You need to leave. Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate.”

Southeastern Florida in an age of global warming
According to a 2015 report by the Miami Herald, southeast Florida is the region in the world at greatest risk from rising ocean levels. If sea levels rise by six feet by 2100, which many scientists expect because of the accelerating rate of polar ice melt, 6 million people in Florida will live in flooded areas. The Herald says that, according to the Risky Business Project led by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, “the value of Florida property at risk from climate change (is) first in the nation. By 2030, they estimated $69 billion at risk, with sea rise alone expected to threaten $15 billion in property.

Tourists navigate the flooded streets of Miami during a king tide in 2015. Climatologists say these king tides will be normal high tides soon. Photo Emily Michot, Miami Herald

Tourists navigate the flooded streets of Miami during a king tide in 2015. Climatologists say these king tides will be normal high tides soon. Photo: Emily Michot, Miami Herald

Tropical storms are the norm in Florida, but as the ocean warms, we can expect more and more devastating hurricanes like Matthew. Recent research has shown that we are experiencing more storms with higher wind speeds, and these storms will be more destructive, last longer and make landfall more frequently than in the past.

Global warming and Montana
There are obviously no tropical storms in Montana, but we have seen significant changes caused by global warming in the state. According to the most recent US Climate Assessment, published by an interagency group, in Montana and the Great Plains:

  • Rising temperatures are leading to increased demand for water and energy. This will constrain development, stress natural resources, and increase competition for water among communities, agriculture, energy production, and ecological needs.
  • Changes to crop growth cycles due to warming winters and alterations in the timing and magnitude of rainfall events have already been observed; as these trends continue, they will require new agriculture and livestock management practices.
  • Landscape fragmentation is increasing. A highly fragmented landscape will hinder adaptation of species when climate change alters habitat composition and timing of plant development cycles.
  • Communities that are already the most vulnerable to weather and climate extremes will be stressed even further by more frequent extreme events occurring within an already highly variable climate system.
  • The magnitude of expected changes will exceed those experienced in the last century. Existing adaptation and planning efforts are inadequate to respond to these projected impacts.

Now is the time to act
We are all connected. Florida’s global warming problem is Montana’s problem. While Montana will not experience the magnitude of impacts of global warming that Florida will, swift action is required to reduce carbon emissions. This means a rapid transition from traditional fossil fuels to clean energy, supported by government incentives, a carbon tax, and other measures.

As Florida is devastated by a storm fueled by warmer oceans, we can no longer afford ourselves the luxury of complaining about “a war on coal” or allow our government agencies to permit oil and gas companies to operate with minimal regulation.

We can respond quickly if we act together to move toward a carbon-free future rather than clinging to our devastating energy past.

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Billings Gazette editorial on fracking chemical disclosure

John Cole, Scranton (PA) Times Tribune. Click to enlarge.

John Cole, Scranton (PA) Times Tribune. Click to enlarge.

Last week the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation turned down a request from several conservation organizations and other residents to require increased disclosure of fracking chemicals.

This is typical for the BOGC. Earlier this year they declined to establish minimum setbacks of wellheads from occupied buildings, leaving Montana as one of the few oil and gas producing states with no required buffer zones.

Montana remains one of the most poorly regulated oil and gas producing states, largely because the BOGC is designed to conserve oil and gas interests, not the rights of the state’s residents. The fight to reform the BOGC is central to protecting the state’s residents from unsafe drilling in this poorly regulated industry.

Today the Billings Gazette responded to the latest BOGC failure with a scathing editorial, reprinted below.

Oil and Gas board needs to find a better fracking solution

No fracking way. 

That’s what the Montana Board of Oil and Gas said when it comes to disclosing what is in the fracking fluid that is pumped down oil wells at high pressure to recover oil. There’s simply no way to disclose what’s in the fluid without compromising trade secrets.

But what’s being compromised by not releasing the information is doubly concerning. 

First, think of how many industries have to disclose what they’re using to the public. Read the label on any agricultural product and companies will tell you a list of chemicals, compounds or ingredients. A label on any item on the grocery store has the ingredients. Look at how the air, water and soil are monitored for pollutants. So it seems curious that what is being forced into the ground and could potentially mix with water would get a free pass from a government board. Unless, of course, that government board is made up of members with ties or business interests in oil and gas.

Really, what can you expect a group of oil and gas people to say? Montana citizens should not expect an unbiased opinion from this group.

That being said, transparency is key because there is potential to do harm to one of our greatest resources, water. As the old Western saying goes, “Whiskey is for drinking, water’s for fighting.” 

We cannot leave to chance our environment, if our state history has taught us anything. We must have a better standard of review, and we must be assured that what is put into a well for fracking is going to be safe in a place where water is so scarce, especially when the financial fortunes of those who stand to gain so much by our oil don’t have to live here with the repercussions of any harm that may be done.

However, we also agree that there are limited times when detailed information may indeed be proprietary. And we also respect that businesses must be able to protect the investment. But that cannot come at the expense of our environment. Just because we’ve been fracking in Montana since 1951 doesn’t mean that all fracking done here — now or then — has been positive or done correctly.

That’s why we urge the oil and gas board to adopt some middle ground. Is there an independent review body which can assess the claims of proprietary information or trade secrets? After all, it would seem like the easiest thing in the world for a petroleum company to simply invoke the proprietary information excuse in order to avoid any scrutiny. 

We’d argue that there must be some independent review. We also think Wyoming may provide a reasonable alternative. In that state, where water contamination in Pavillion led to many questions about fracking and geology, that board has adopted a more stringent disclosure process. There are lists of fracking fluid ingredients that are not considered proprietary and must be disclosed. Any other fluid that is not on that list must be reviewed by experts to determine whether it falls under the proprietary disclosure. 

 When companies or individuals want to do something outside the public view, there’s often a reason. 

Trust us is not a good enough answer.

The risk of environmental damage is so great that we shouldn’t have to trust that something is safe. We should get the peace of mind to know that something is safe — not because some expert from a company says so, but because we can check the fact for ourselves.

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Interview: The Gas Patch with John Fenton

John Fenton, Pavillion Wyoming

John Fenton

I have a number of topics percolating, but I want to share this video that found its way to my mailbox today. It’s an interview with John Fenton of Pavilion, Wyoming about his experiences with the oil and gas industry and how they have changed his life, first for worse and then, in a transformational sense, for the better.

We’ve written about John in the past. We’ve described his personal story and how politics has trumped science in Pavilion, and encouraged you to attend an event in Red Lodge at which he spoke.

But we can’t do justice to John’s story the way he can. The video is an eighteen minute description of the events that changed his life. I can’t recommend it enough to those who live in communities where oil and gas drilling is being considered. It is sobering and hopeful, and perhaps it will spur you to action.

The video is part of a series by Heidi Hutner called Coffee with Hx2. Hutner is the director of the Sustainability Studies Program and Associate Dean in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University in New York.

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New study links fracking to migraines, fatigue, sinus problems

New research suggests that Pennsylvania residents with the highest exposure to active natural gas wells are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a combination of migraine headaches, chronic nasal and sinus symptoms and severe fatigue.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, reporting online today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, say their findings add to a growing body of evidence linking the fracking industry to health problems.

fracking071816The research reminds us that Montana is one of the few oil and gas producing states with no mandated minimum distances, or setbacks, between wellheads and occupied buildings. The Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation recently considered the issue of setbacks, but decided to require only notification of residents when a well is about to be drilled nearby. Carbon County recently became the first county in Montana to pass a county-wide setback restriction as part of the County’s growth plan revision.

Debilitating impacts
“These three health conditions can have debilitating impacts on people’s lives,” says author Aaron W. Tustin. “In addition, they cost the health care system a lot of money. Our data suggest these symptoms are associated with proximity to the fracking industry.”

For their study, Tustin and his colleagues created a questionnaire and received responses from 7,785 adult primary care patients of the Geisinger Health System, a health care provider that covers 40 counties in north and central Pennsylvania. The questionnaires were returned between April and October of 2014. The researchers found that 1,765 respondents (23 percent) suffered from migraines, 1,930 people (25 percent) experienced severe fatigue and 1,850 (24 percent) had current symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis (defined as three or more months of nasal and sinus symptoms).

The researchers used publicly available well data to estimate participants’ exposure to the fracking industry. Their models accounted for the size and number of wells, as well as the distance between wells and people’s homes. While no single health condition was associated with proximity to active wells, those who met criteria for two or more of the health conditions were nearly twice as likely to live closer to more or larger wells.

Brian Schwartz

Brian Schwartz

“We don’t know specifically why people in close proximity to these larger wells are more likely to be sick,” says the study’s senior author Brian S. Schwartz, MD, MS, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School. “We need to find a way to better understand the correlation and, hopefully, do something to protect the health of these people.”

But, he said, “there have now been seven or eight studies with different designs and in different populations, and while none is perfect, there is now a growing body of evidence that this industry is associated with impacts on health that are biologically plausible.”

Previous research conducted by Schwartz and colleagues has linked the fracking industry to increases in premature births, asthma attacks and indoor radon concentrations.

Tustin and his colleagues say there are plausible explanations for how fracking could cause these health conditions. Well development generates air pollution, which could provoke nasal and sinus symptoms. This type of drilling also produces stressors such as odors, noise, bright lights and heavy truck traffic. Any of these stressors could increase the risk of symptoms. Migraine headaches, for example, are known to be triggered by odors in some individuals.

Hydraulic fracturing involves the injection of millions of liters of water into deep rock formations to liberate natural gas or petroleum. Energy companies moved toward fracking in the early 2000s when natural gas prices were high and supplies were low. Pennsylvania has embraced the industry. Over 9,000 fracking wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania in the past decade. Hydraulic fracturing has expanded rapidly in recent years in states such as Colorado, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, West Virginia and Ohio. In contrast, New York has banned fracking and Maryland has delayed well production.

Maryland’s fracking moratorium is set to expire in October 2017. The moratorium was passed in 2015 out of concern about fracking’s potentially negative environmental effects, before the more recent health studies were completed. Schwartz says Maryland regulators should consider these new scientific findings when they decide whether to allow drilling.

“The moratorium was put in place before we even knew that there were health effects associated with these wells,” Schwartz says. “Now that we do, regulators need to carefully consider their next steps.”

A growing body of evidence
This study is part of a growing body of evidence that oil and gas drilling has substantial negative impacts on human health.

A recent analysis by PSE examined 685 peer reviewed studies on fracking. They  concluded that:

  • 84% of public health studies contain findings that indicate public health hazards, elevated risks, or adverse health outcomes;
  • 69% of water quality studies contain findings that indicate potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination;
  • 87% of air quality studies contain findings that indicate elevated air pollutant emissions and/or atmospheric concentrations.

Montana remains woefully behind in protecting its residents from these health effects.

Based on “Study: Fracking associated with migraines, fatigue, chronic nasal and sinus symptoms,” John Hopkins University.

Time for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas to step up on setbacks
A win for local activists: Carbon County passes county-wide oil and gas regulations
Time for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas to act on chemical disclosure

The oil and gas industry’s predictable attack on this study: Activists’ own research contradict claim of link between fracking and sinus conditions, migraines, fatigue in Drillbit Media

Posted in Health impacts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Yellowstone River closing: this is what climate change looks like

Click to read the FWP release on the closure.

Click to read the FWP release on the closure.

A microscopic parasite is destroying the fish population of the Yellowstone River system, causing Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to take the extraordinary step of closing a 183-mile stretch of the Yellowstone and its tributaries to all water-based recreation (fishing, wading, floating, tubing, boating). The closure affects the river from Gardiner, at the north end of Yellowstone Park, to Laurel, and includes the Stillwater, Boulder, and Shields rivers.

In the past 10 days, FWP has discovered over 2000 dead mountain whitefish along this stretch of river, and expects that the total kill will climb to the “tens of thousands.” According to FWP, the kill is beginning to impact some rainbow and Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

The parasite is tetracapsuloides bryosalmonae, which causes proliferative kidney disease (PKD) in salmonids, one of the most serious diseases to impact whitefish and trout. According to FWP, the disease can be 20-100% fatal in trout.

The closure will have a dramatic impact on Montana’s outdoor recreation economy, which is responsible for more than 64,000 jobs and nearly $6 billion in yearly economic activity. In stressing the urgency of the situation, Governor Bullock stated, “We must be guided by science. Our state cannot afford this infectious disease to spread to other streams and rivers and it’s my responsibility to do everything we can to stop this threat in its tracks and protect Montana jobs and livelihoods.”

FWP will continue to monitor the river and will lift the closure when stream conditions such as flow and temperature improve and fish mortality ceases.

Water flows on the Stillwater are at an extremely low level, as you can see from our deck.

The Stillwater is at an extremely low level, as you can see in this photo taken from our deck.

This is what climate change looks like
The parasite is native to the northern US, Canada and Europe, but outbreaks have not been common. According to FWP, there have been only two isolated PKD outbreaks in Montana in the last 20 years.

Why such a huge outbreak, and why now?

According to the FWP release, the effect of the disease on Yellowstone’s fish populations is exacerbated by other stressors like near record low flows, consistent high temperatures, and the disturbance caused by recreational activities.

We know that these stressors are extreme:

  • The area of the Yellowstone River system that has suffered the PKD outbreak is suffering from extreme drought conditions. According to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Water Conservation, Sweetgrass, Stillwater, and Yellowstone counties — the primary locations of the closure — are all suffering from extreme drought as of July, 2016.
Source: Montana DNRC

Source: Montana DNRC. Download.

  • As we have reported on this site, 2014 and 2015 were the hottest years in recorded global history, and 2016 will set a new record. In fact, we have had over 30 consecutive months of record temperatures. These temperature increases have been felt in Montana. According to the federal government, average spring temperatures in the state have risen by almost 4°F over the last 55 years; summer temperatures have risen by over 1°F during the same period.
  • Source: US Geological Survey

    Source: US Geological Survey. Click to enlarge.

    Drought and increased temperatures reduce river water flows. I can see this looking out my back deck at the Stillwater. It is lower than it has been in years.

    The chart at right depicts Stillwater River water levels at Absarokee over the last week. Average river levels over 81 years are shown in the triangles at the top; current levels are shown by the blue line.

We also know that these conditions are not temporary. Droughts, warmer temperatures, and lower river flows are part of our future.

According to the article “Life cycle complexity, environmental change and the emerging status of salmonid proliferative kidney disease,” published in the journal Freshwater Biology in June, 2010:

“Environmental change is likely to cause PKD outbreaks in more northerly regions as warmer temperatures promote disease development, enhance bryozoan biomass and increase spore production, but may also reduce the geographical range of this unique multihost-parasite system. Coevolutionary dynamics resulting from host–parasite interactions that maximise fitness in previous environments may pose problems for sustainability, particularly in view of extensive declines in salmonid populations and degradation of many freshwater habitats.”

There are those in Montana who will say that this is an unfortunate chance outbreak of this disease, but it isn’t. This is what climate change looks like. It means that, as the conditions that promote diseases like PKD proliferate, so will future outbreaks of these and other diseases.

For those of us concerned about the future of this region it is a reminder that we need to guard against activities that can threaten our water. This includes oil and gas drilling, but many other activities as well. As Governor Bullock says, “We must be guided by science.”

The science is clear.

Related: Study: Native trout populations endangered by global warming
Congratulations! You’ve just lived through the hottest year on record. Again.
Comparing the 2016 US presidential candidates on climate change

Update August 23: Excellent article in The Atlantic on the unique nature of the parasite responsible for the shutdown, “A Tiny Jellyfish Relative Just Shut Down Yellowstone River.”

Billings Gazette: “Yellowstone fish-killing parasite is so prolific it’s ‘shocking’ fish to death”

…(T)he immune response that the fish are expressing would suggest that they have not been exposed to this parasite previously….That has concerned us since it would suggest it’s a new infection. At least we haven’t seen anything on this scale previously.”

“The other thing that’s concerning is from the histology results there were high numbers of parasites seen in multiple tissues. That suggests to us that the infective load that’s currently out in the river is very high. Why that’s a concern is that the sheer volume of parasites that’s out there makes it very easy for the parasite to be spread to other waters.”

Update August 24: Our post is featured in an article on the river closure on climatecrocks.com, which describes the evolving parasite as a “tiny winner” of climate chance. The article includes an item from the British Natural History Museum, which is ” examining how bryozoans act as a source of a disease in salmon and trout that is increasing in prevalence and severity as a result of environmental change.”

Update September 1: FWP issued a release today that announced the opening of some closed sections of the Yellowstone. From the release:

The Yellowstone River and all of its tributaries downstream from the Highway 89 Bridge Fishing Access Site to the Highway 212 bridge in Laurel are open to all uses, with the exception of the Shields River and all of its tributaries, which remain closed to all public occupation and recreation per the original Aug. 19 closure in order to protect the Yellowstone cutthroat trout fishery. The mainstem Yellowstone River and all tributaries downstream from the Highway 212 bridge in Laurel were never part of a closure, and remain open to all uses.


According to the Billings Gazette, this includes the Boulder and Stillwater rivers.

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Time for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas to act on fracking chemical disclosure

Last week a coalition of environmental organizations, landowners and public health advocates petitioned the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) to provide broader public disclosure of information about the chemicals used in fracking.

The coalition, represented by the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice and led by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Montana Environmental Information Center, requested the changes to BOGC rules to ensure that Montana citizens who live and farm near fracking operations have access to chemical information they need to safeguard their property, health, and environment.

Montana law gives citizens the right to petition state agencies such as the BOGC to request amendments to agency regulations. The petition will be presented at the BOGC’s August 11 meeting in Billings, after which the agency will have 60 days to take action.

Why this is important
The current BOGC rules related to chemical disclosure were established in 2011. They require disclosure of chemicals used in fracking after a well is drilled, and allow operators to keep confidential any chemical information they claim to be a trade secret.

These rules put Montanans at a considerable disadvantage in protecting themselves from possible harm from oil and gas drilling for two important reasons:

  1. If water contamination occurs during drilling and a landowner tries to prove legal liability for damage, the law requires that the water be tested before and after drilling occurs. If contamination is caused by drilling, the landowner must prove that contaminating chemicals in the water were not present in the baseline testing conducted before drilling occurs. To conduct appropriate baseline testing, the landowner needs to know what chemicals to test for. Without prior knowledge of the chemicals to be used in drilling, the landowner could do everything possible to protect his water, but fail to test for the specific chemicals that are used.  (Related: Report from the water testing seminar in Lewistown)
  2. The current rules allow operators to keep secret the identity of any chemical used in fracking by designating it a “trade secret.” There is no independent review of these exclusions — companies can independently decide what chemicals they do not disclose. By contrast, Wyoming changed its rules in 2015 to require an independent review by the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission of any chemical a company seeks to keep secret.
Katherine O'Brien

Katherine O’Brien

These are common sense reforms that would protect landowners from potential harm. As Katherine O’Brien, the Earthjustice attorney who drafted the petition on behalf of the coalition put it, “Montanans have the right to know what is being pumped into the ground around their homes, farms, and ranches.”

Reaction in Montana
The press reaction to these proposed changes has been strongly positive. In an August 2 editorial, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle declared:

“Think about this: Would we even allow natural resource extraction companies to dump hazardous chemicals into our lakes or rivers? Or would we allow them to spew toxic pollution into the air without any restrictions?

“And yet somehow it’s just fine to allow them to pump these pollutants deep into the earth and we’re not even allowed to know what they are. It’s a testament to the lobbyists for the oil and gas companies that they were able to persuade state and federal legislators to enact laws that protect the firms from revealing these chemicals.”

Jessica Sena

Jessica Sena

Reaction of the oil and gas industry
The oil and gas industry is determined to oppose any change in rules. In a recent guest editorial in the Sidney Herald, Jessica Sena, a frequent spokesperson for the industry whose dog and pony show  we have already seen along the Beartooth Front, lays out a position that she could have written in her sleep: the 2011 disclosure rules are just fine, and besides, fracking is completely safe because there is “no evidence of ‘fracking’ fluids permeating the thousands of feet of bedrock which separate frac zones and drinking water acquirers.”

Regular readers of this site will recognize this statement as the oil and gas industry’s great lie. They take a single type of water contamination that is almost impossible to prove, and for which the industry has stonewalled government attempts to prove, and say that contamination never occurs.

She trots out all the tired old industry standards: the Lisa Jackson quote, and comparing the fracking industry need for trade secrets to KFC and Coca-Cola, both of which long ago joined the 21st century by releasing their “secret” formulas.

This is complete and total nonsense, and Sena should be ashamed to trot out the same old antiquated arguments.

Peer-reviewed scientific studies on fracking by year. Source

Peer-reviewed scientific studies on fracking by year. Source

Scientific studies prove impacts of fracking
Here is the scientific proof about the relationship between fracking and its impacts on air, water and community health.

Since the fracking/horizontal drilling boom began in the United States began about ten years ago, it has taken science time to catch up with our experience. But it is catching up. When Montana disclosure rules were set up in 2011, there were almost no peer-reviewed scientific studies on water and public health impacts caused by fracking. But since that time, there have been at least 685 papers published in peer-reviewed journals regarding the impacts of oil and gas drilling.

Of these studies:

  • 84% of public health studies contain findings that indicate public health hazards, elevated risks, or adverse health outcomes
  • 69% of water quality studies contain findings that indicate potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination
  • 87% of air quality studies contain findings that indicate elevated air pollutant emissions and/or atmospheric concentrations

The oil and gas industry undoubtedly knows this data, yet chooses to lie to the public about the impact of drilling.

The BOGC needs to act
We have often discussed the inadequacies of the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation on this site. It is not serving the people of Montana and is in need of substantive reform.

Last summer the BOGC was presented with another rulemaking petition, on minimum distances, or setbacks, of wellheads from occupied buildings. Despite the fact that most oil and gas producing states, including Wyoming and North Dakota, have minimum setback rules, the BOGC decided to require only notification of property owners, not minimum setbacks, leaving Montana far behind other states in protecting its citizens.

The Board of Oil and Gas Photo: Casey Page, Billings Gazette

The Board of Oil and Gas Photo: Casey Page, Billings Gazette

The new rules proposed in the fracking disclosure petition are reasonable, they are in line with what neighboring states are doing, and they do not impose an undue burden on industry. The BOGC needs to act to protect Montanans.


Posted in Fracking Information, Health impacts | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

A win for local activists: Carbon County passes county-wide oil and gas regulations

The Carbon County Commissioners today passed new regulations to protect citizens from the dangers of oil and gas drilling, a significant win for local activists. The Development Regulations update, the first since 1989, follows the County’s adoption of an updated Growth Policy last year.

Key provisions of the new regulations include:

  • Requires an approved site plan prior to the issuance of a conditional use permit, which would be a matter of public record before a permit is granted. This is not required today.
  • Provides landowners the right to receive baseline water testing, paid for by the driller before drilling begins. This is critical to determining the cause of any future contamination.
  • Establishes a 750-foot minimum distance, or setback, of oil and gas development from homes, and
  • Ensures dust control on roads used for hauling near drilling sites, with mitigation plans approved on a case by case basis.
Susann Beug, Chair, Carbon County Resource Council

Susann Beug, Chair, Carbon County Resource Council

Tireless activists
The regulations mark a rare Montana victory for the tireless activists in Carbon County who have worked on landowner protections for nearly three years since Energy Corporation of America announced plans to “bring a little bit of the Bakken” to the Beartooth Front. These activists, most members of the Carbon County Resource Council, an affiliate of Northern Plains Resource Council, have been relentless in pursuing change.

They attended meeting after meeting of the County Planning Board, working to adopt these regulations against opposition that gradually lost steam. They attended regular County Commissioner meetings, and testified before the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation. These regulations simply would not have happened without them.

In addition, a group of local residents organized and obtained signatures to protect their rights by establishing a citizen initiated zoning district in the Silvertip area of Belfry. When the County rejected the landowners’ application, the landowners filed suit and eventually took the case all the way to the Montana Supreme Court.

In the end, the constant pressure has paid off, and the Commissioners relented. This is a real win for Carbon County citizens. The new regulations afford genuine protections that are not provided by other Montana laws, and they would not have happened without the dedicated work of these local activists, people like Susann Beug, Deb Muth, Becky Grey, Carol Nash, Julie Holzer and Bonnie Martinell, and Maggie Zaback of Northern Plains.

The Commissioners, who began the process adamantly opposed to regulation, deserve recognition for adapting to the will of County landowners. Brent Moore, who managed the planning process, also deserves credit for being open to regulation from the beginning.

Still much more to do
But it is important to recognize that protection against oil and gas drilling is an endless battle, and these rules are a small step in a long fight. Specifically,

This is why local activists need to keep working on local solutions to ensure broader protections, as is happening in Stillwater County, where residents continue to grapple with the County Commissioners over procedural issues related to their application with citizen initiated zoning.

But in the meantime, it is important to recognize that local activism bears fruit. It’s not easy, and requires commitment over the long haul. All credit goes to those who worked to make this happen. Local residents should thank them for their work.

As Susann Beug says, “We know that oil and gas developers will be back, and when that happens we want them to do it right.”

The updated regulations have been posted to the Carbon County website. You can download a copy, or review the history of the development of the regulations.

Posted in Community Organization, Politics and History | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Tesla just killed the gasoline powered car

1920 Ford Model T

1920 Ford Model T

Tesla Motors killed the gasoline-powered car last week. The Silicon Valley company accomplished this feat without delivering a single automobile. But as sure as Henry Ford killed the horse and buggy by mass producing an affordable Model T a century ago, Tesla’s announcement of its Model 3 means we’re approaching the end of the internal combustion engine.

The proof is in the astonishing public reaction to the announcement of a car that will sell for $35,000, and won’t even enter into production until late 2017. In the first weekend after the announcement, 276,000 buyers put down a $1000 non-refundable deposit for a car they won’t be able to see for two years.

This is by far the fastest growing order book in the history of the auto industry. It’s more cars ordered in four days than General Motors delivers in a month. It’s not surprising — Tesla promises to deliver features that are obviously exciting to the mainstream market:

  • 215 miles of range per charge, a significant technological advance
  • acceleration from 0 to 60 in six seconds
  • seating for five people
  • autopilot features
  • an interior design that will “feel like a spaceship,” according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

To give an idea of how the numbers have blown past projections, Musk tweeted, “token of appreciation for those who lined up coming via mail. Thought maybe 20-30 people per store would line up, not 800. Gifts on order.”

Tesla Model 3

Tesla’s success is the clearest sign that the market wants to move quickly to electric cars, but there are other signs as well:

Doubters should recognize that what we’re talking about here is global market disruption, not excess government regulation, and the impact will be tremendous. Vehicle consumption currently accounts for about 70% of our oil usage in this country. The rise of the electric car and the death of the internal combustion engine will change our energy landscape forever.

Watch the video to take a test drive in the gas-powered car killer.


Posted in Clean energy | Tagged , | 6 Comments