I received comments from a number of people who went to last night’s Petroleum Forum at the Elks Club in Red Lodge. A quick summary follows. People who attended are welcome to describe their experiences in the comments below.
The meeting room was packed. Estimates of attendance ranged from 100-150 people, roughly mixed between those in favor and opposition to drilling expansion.
My take from hearing the reports is that this wasn’t really a forum. Those in favor listened to the presentations, which made the positive case, and left. Those who wanted to raise concerns were frustrated by the length of the presentations and the lack of time left to get satisfactory responses or the chance to even voice their concerns.
Nobody felt the pro-drilling presentations were completely out of line. They were informational, but they were just one-sided. Everyone did seem to single out Tom Richman of the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation as a poor representative for the pro-drilling side. He was alternatively described by attendees as a “dismissive smart ass,” “someone who tried to sugar coat everything,” “completely sure he has all the right answers,” and “so unaware of the contents of the Belfry permit that I wondered if he had even read it.”
Attendees felt that there were inadequate or unclear responses to concerns about water supply and contamination, chemical spills, and monitoring and reporting.
This is a wasted opportunity, of course, and seems like a classic political mistake. More than most issues, this is one that is going to affect the entire community. Commissioner Prinkki is just kidding himself if he thinks he can steamroll people who are concerned about the local economy, their water, their property values, and their way of life.
His constituents deserve an opportunity to have a thorough public airing of the issues. The community needs to come up with a solution that meets the needs of everyone – ranchers, farmers, small town residents — not just the oil companies.