by Bonnie Martinell
I am a produce farmer and one of the landowners who are working with the County Commissioners to establish the Silvertip Zone in Belfry. Our goal is to protect our health, safety, water, property rights and livelihoods.
The zone is the result of a year’s worth of work by a lot of people. I want to particularly thank the Carbon County Commissioners, who have put in endless hours listening to constituents and learning about new oil and gas technology. They are in a very tough position, trying to support citizens who are within their rights to create a zone, while trying not to put an additional burden on neighbors or industry.
There has been a lot of talk in the community about what the Silvertip Zone is and what it isn’t. I’d like to set the record straight.
The Silvertip Zone will protect the rights of landowners, not take them away. The laws of Montana are weighted in favor of the oil and gas companies. When drillers get a permit, they can place a wellhead right next to your kitchen window if they want to. There are insufficient requirements for testing water to see if it is contaminated, or for testing air quality to see if the levels of pollutants are high. The zoning regulations will put these protections in place without taking the rights of mineral holders.
Regulations in the Zone will affect only oil and gas development, not agriculture or ranching. I have heard people say that a zone affects anything you do on your property – grazing, fencing, water well placement. This is just not true. The Silvertip Zone is clearly set up to deal ONLY with oil and gas development. Other activities are not affected.
The zoning rules will affect only landowners inside the zone. Only landowners inside the zone will get the benefits of whatever zoning rules are created. They will get the benefits of setback limits, water testing, soil and air quality monitoring. Landowners who are outside the zone will not be affected.
The Zone will not require new taxes or other costs paid by Belfry residents. The costs of administering the zone will be paid by fees on oil and gas companies. This is appropriate, because these costs are a legitimate part of doing business. But if we don’t put the zone in place, the increased costs of oil and gas drilling – road repairs, increased police and court costs, sewage, garbage collection – will have to be paid for by increased taxes on County residents. In Eastern Montana, taxes to local residents have increased significantly because they didn’t have time to make sure the costs were distributed fairly before the boom started.
It’s important to put these rules in place NOW, before drilling takes place, not after. We want to be proactive to prevent damages and losses. I’m sure Eastern Montana wishes they had the opportunity that we have. We have a break right now, with oil prices low. That’s why it’s important to put the zone in place, so when the next boom hits we’ll be ready.
The Silvertip Zone will not stop anyone from extracting their minerals. The zoning rules will just make sure drilling is done right. They will protect landowners, and allow mineral holders to get what is rightfully theirs.
The Silvertip Zone is fair for everyone, and protects the long-term future of our community.