Follow up on last week’s setback hearings at the Montana Board of Oil and Gas

Linda Nelson, BOGC Chair, at the hearings last week. Photo: KTVQ.com

Linda Nelson, BOGC Chair, at the hearings last week. Photo: KTVQ.com

A follow up on the June 23 public session at the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) on setbacks of oil and gas wells from occupied buildings and water sources.

After a two-hour special hearing with significant testimony, the BOGC said it would decide whether to pursue a setback rule making process at its meeting in August. That meeting will be held on Thursday, August 13 in Billings.

Click here to read a news report on the hearings with video.

Jessica Sena, representing the Montana Petroleum Association, opposes any setback regulations. Photo: KTVQ.com

Jessica Sena, representing the Montana Petroleum Association, opposed any setback regulations.  Photo: KTVQ.com

If you haven’t familiarized yourself with the issue of setbacks, I recommend you read this post. I expect there will be additional opportunity for public input on the issue later this summer.

The following letter to the editor from Cindy Webber of Big Timber appeared in the June 28 edition of the Billings Gazette:

Oil and gas setback rule needed to protect Montana homeowners
I sincerely hope that the Montana Board of Oil and Gas will decide to begin rule making on setback requirements, as it was asked to do on June 24. Setback requirements restrict oil and gas wells from being placed too close to residences or water sources, in order to strike an equitable balance between development and landowner protections.

Bainsville rancher Pat Wilson testified, "According to current Montana law, it could practically be on their doorstep. I mean we don't have a rule."

Bainsville rancher Pat Wilson testified, “According to current Montana law, a well could practically be on their doorstep. I mean we don’t have a rule.”

Currently, Montana has no setback requirements on private land. In contrast, our neighboring states of Wyoming, North Dakota and Colorado require a setback of 500 feet between an oil and gas well and residences. On federal land, the Bureau of Land Management prohibits oil and gas development within one-quarter mile (1,320 feet) of an occupied dwelling.

Why are setbacks necessary? First, split estate situations are common throughout the West — one person owns the mineral rights and another owns the surface land. Thus, residents may have no say about oil and gas development on their land. Montanans should not have to hire a lawyer to protect their land.

Secondly, studies have shown that the safest distance between a home and an oil well is one-quarter mile. Negative impacts from oil rigs include noise and light pollution, harmful emissions such as methane or diesel fumes, truck traffic and water contamination.

Only with citizen input can we find a Montana solution that adequately protects landowners.

Cindy Webber
Big Timber

About davidjkatz

The Moses family has lived on the Stillwater River since 1974, when George and Lucile Moses retired and moved to the Beehive from the Twin Cities. They’re gone now, but their four daughters (pictured at left, on the Beehive) and their families continue to spend time there, and have grown to love the area. This blog started as an email chain to keep the family informed about the threat of increased fracking activity in the area, but the desire to inform and get involved led to the creation of this blog.
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2 Responses to Follow up on last week’s setback hearings at the Montana Board of Oil and Gas

  1. susann Beug says:

    As I listened to the oil and gas comments about how well their negotiations with land owners is working one question kept coming up for me. Why does the land owner have to negotiate to keep a well off of his doorstep or have to go before the board to resolve conflicts concerning set backs? It seems more logical for there to be a definite set back in place and let that be the basis of any negotiations. It is working in other states. The land owner may not be as well versed in the ins and outs or land use contracts which put him at a disadvantage. The land owner pays property taxes and is usually part of the local community which is not often true of a mineral owner. The land owner is the one who needs the protection.

    • davidjkatz says:

      Well said. If you don’t have regulation, the operator has license to run roughshod over the surface owner. There are too many examples of operators placing wells right next to occupied dwellings or water supplies.

      Montana is the only energy state that doesn’t have setbacks. That needs to change.

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