This letter to the editor appeared in the September 28 edition of the Billings Gazette:
I was one of the landowners who attended the Sept. 8 meeting of the Carbon County Commissioners to hear what the representatives of the Energy Corporation of America had to say about their planned development of the Beartooth Front. It was a great opportunity to hear what they’re planning, what we can expect and which rules they are following. What could have been a helpful and informative meeting, though, became one of generalities and few specifics.
We know that oil development is mainly regulated by the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation. The board writes rules, offers exemptions, inspects and permits. It even goes so far, (like in Belfry) as Googling the environmental assessment. The actual area was not even seen before the permit was approved.
The Department of Environmental Quality simply requires an air quality permit (the operator decides if they need one), possibly construction permits and regulates offsite spills.
Although our state has basic laws, the state of Montana is far behind others in landowner and citizen protection than other states. We have no baseline water, air or soil testing. There are no setback limits and very weak well casing standards to protect aquifers. Both the BOGC and DEQ only have seven inspectors each to regulate the vast numbers of wells and polluting entities. This is greatly insufficient and, therefore, fines are rare and more cost effective for the companies than actually complying with the laws.
The local community is willing to welcome oil companies that utilize responsible resource development in our area. But in return we hope that they will not cut corners or ignore our concerns.