There was a rock slide out our way on the Stillwater River last week. It blocked Stillwater River Road at Midnight Canyon, and probably will for a while, so traffic to Absarokee will have to take the long way around until County crews can figure out how to safely clean up the mess.
You can read more details and subsequent updates at the Stillwater County News.
These things aren’t rare. The powerful geological forces that cut the upper Stillwater River from Sioux Charley Lake past Woodbine Falls and through the narrow Gorge, beyond the Beehive toward Absarokee are constantly subject to reversal by natural forces. Rain, snow and and the constant flow of the River slowly wear away at the hills, causing erosion and slides. When you have rural unpaved roads cutting through the mountains, you’re going to get falling rock. And rural communities are particularly vulnerable, since unexpected slides can shut them off from the rest of the world for long periods of time.
Earthquakes associated with drilling
We also know that oil drilling is associated with earthquakes. It is well documented by peer-reviewed scientific data and tracked by the US Geological Survey that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of quakes due to waste injection wells associated with fracking in many different areas of the United States.
So it seems logical to be concerned about earthquakes in Stillwater County, particularly in the area near Dean and Fishtail, where there are a number of dirt roads that could be impacted by slides, just like Stillwater River Road. You just wouldn’t want to increase the risk of earthquakes that could cause slides that might cripple the local economy and endanger residents.
This is a very specific concern, and one that could be alleviated by local regulation. The solution is to not allow injection wells in the area.
The problem is that there’s no current mechanism to do this. There’s nothing in federal or state law that enables it, and nothing in the permitting regulations or the past history of the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation that makes prohibiting injection wells at all likely.
So you would expect that local residents would want to put rules in place that prohibit injection wells in the area. It’s a reasonable concern, and local regulation is a reasonable solution.
That’s exactly what Stillwater landowners are doing. They’re currently gathering signatures from local landowners to present to the Stillwater County Commissioners to put a citizen initiated zone in place. The zone would establish local rules for oil drilling that would protect local water, the local economy, and landowner rights.
This is just good sense. The way of life that has developed over the years in this part of Stillwater County is unique, and it needs to be preserved. Since federal and state law don’t offer these needed protections, local citizens have every right to take action to protect their own communities.