The following Letter to the editor appeared in the October 12, 2014 edition of the Billings Gazette:
Although oil and gas companies would have you believe otherwise, the regulations they must follow while drilling do not protect landowners and their water supplies from contamination. They don’t even come close. The Energy Corporation of America has plans to “bring something like the Bakken” to the Beartooths. They’ve already begun the drilling process, and wells on private property are not being protected.
Right now, the best option for protecting private water supplies is for each landowner to pay hundreds of dollars for baseline testing of wells to show what chemicals are present in the water before drilling begins. Landowners must then pay to have wells retested on a regular basis (possibly for years) to learn if water has been contaminated.
And that is not enough. Oil companies don’t have to disclose what chemicals they use in fracking because the law protects that information as “trade secrets.” So even if testing shows contamination by a certain chemical, there is no way to prove the oil company used that particular chemical in the drilling process.
There’s something wrong with the law in Montana when landowners have to pay to protect themselves from damage done by oil and gas development, which produces millions of dollars for the oil and gas companies. County commissioners should require every oil and gas operator to pay for regular testing and monitoring of all wells near a drilling site to prove they are not contaminated. This testing should be done by independent companies, not companies chosen by the oil and gas developers. It is a cost of doing business here in Montana, and it is necessary to protect our property rights.