On January 30 there will be a panel on issues regarding petroleum exploration and development in Montana, at the Elks Lodge in Red Lodge from 6-8pm. The panel, sponsored by The Elks, will present on geological studies in Carbon County, explain the permitting process, and discuss water quality as it pertains to energy production.
The expansion of drilling along the Beartooth Front is of critical importance to residents. It is essential to have public forums about the implications of increased activity, but make no mistake about it: this is a petroleum industry event. Three of the four speakers, through their public comments and affiliations, have strong industry ties and histories of dismissing public concern about drilling as “unsubstantiated” or previously “rebutted.”
- Greg Mohl, local geophysicist and Red Lodge track and volleyball coach. Mohl received his B.S. in Geological and Earth Sciences from Montana State University, and a PhD in Geology from Washington State University. He is an expert in seismology, petroleum geology, oil and gas, and reservoir management among other areas. According to Mr. Mohl’s bio, he has been responsible for prospect generation for Ellwood Exploration LLC, a Wyoming oil and gas company, for the last 10 years.
He is also a public endorser (#453) of The Manhattan Declaration on Climate Change, which denies that climate change is a man-made crisis, and asserts that any attempts to restrict CO2 emissions “will slow development while having no appreciable impact on the future trajectory of global climate change.”
- Tom Richmond, Division Administrator and Petroleum Engineer on the Board of Oil & Gas Conservation (BOGC) will be present to discuss the regulatory side of petroleum exploration and production. Richmond is a long time staff member at BOGC, which is the quasi-judicial state agency that oversees petroleum production activity in Montana. He has been instrumental in much of the state’s energy regulation. Richmond is Montana’s Associate Official Representative to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Ground Water Protection Council, an association of state groundwater program managers and oil and gas agency officials. The BOGC was recently sued for failing to allow public debate over the permitting of a well in the Belfry area.
Mr. Richmond has authored an article in the Billings Gazette in which he said,
(T)he safety of hydraulic fracturing is being called into question by organizations trying to convince Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency to establish or broaden federal regulations. These organizations are using fear tactics — unsubstantiated claims of groundwater contamination by dangerous chemicals — to make their case.
- John LeFave, Senior Hydrogeologist at the Bureau of Mines and Geology at Montana Tech. The Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology is the principal source of earth science information. Since 1919, the Bureau has been mandated to conduct research and assist in the orderly development of the State’s mineral and water resources. John is also the Program Manager of the Ground Water Assessment Program, and holds a Masters in Geology, and will be sharing a presentation on water testing that’s been done in areas of oil and gas development.
- Jessica Sena, a representative from the Montana Petroleum Association, will also be present to provide a brief overview of the current activity. Ms. Sena authored an article in the Sidney Herald this week that stated, among other things,
Claims of contamination from drilling, flammable tap water, earthquakes, water shortages and even cancer have been reviewed and rebutted by the top regulatory agencies and medical centers in the country,…
The event, which will be facilitated by Elks member and County Commissioner John Prinkki, will conclude with a Q&A.
If you’re looking for a balanced give and take on issues related to drilling, this might not be the event for you. However, it is important for people who have concerns to show up and make sure their issues are known and reported on by the press. My experience in talking to people in the area is that they are not using “fear tactics” or making unsubstantiated claims. They have a genuine concern about their water, their land, their air, their economy and way of life. These concerns should not be dismissed — there is much in the recent experience of residents of North Dakota and Wyoming to prove that these concerns are valid.
Legitimate areas for questions might include:
- Water supply – Where is all the water coming from? How will local aquifers be protected?
- Groundwater contamination – Who will do impartial baseline testing? What is the plan for regular ongoing testing during the drilling? What is the timeline for cleanup when spills occur?
- Mineral rights – How will property owners be protected from unscrupulous mineral rights holders in an area where most mineral rights are separated from property?
- Toxins – What specific toxins are used in the fracking process? Why does the industry keep this list secret?
- Airborne pollutants – What will be the impact of public exposure to gases like methane or hydrogen sulfide?
- Flaring – How much flaring can we expect? What is the plan to reduce the amount of flaring required?
- Reporting – Can we expect that spills will be as frequent as they have been in North Dakota? What are the reporting standards for spills?
- Taxes – Who will pay for the increased infrastructure required to support heavy industry: roads, police, jails, health care, housing, sewage?
- Earthquakes – Can the industry state categorically that there is no link between fracking and earthquakes? What would be the impact of earthquakes on critical impoundments and tailings ponds in the area?
- Crime – What support will we get to deal with the increase in crimes related to drug use and human trafficking that go with rapid expansion of drilling?
- Railway safety – In the wake of railway disaster after railway disaster, how concerned should we be that the area in and around Columbus is safe?
- Climate change – Really?
It is important that your questions be aired, so the community understands that there are legitimate issues that can’t be easily dismissed.
A little knowledge can be a powerful thing: