According to data published by the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC), in 2015 there have been a total of 74 “undesirable” oil-related incidents in Montana through June 22. Of these, 66 were spills of oil and/or particulate water, and eight were fires. According to the report, about half of the spills were contained on the well pad, but the other half migrated beyond the pad. You can read the report by clicking the graphic at right (Microsoft Excel required).
Nearly all of the incidents occurred in the Bakken in northeast Montana, with a handful occurring in Toole and Blaine counties in the northern part of the state.
According to John Gizicki, BOGC Compliance Specialist, operators are required to report incidents as follows:
- Spills greater than 50 barrels: Immediate notice to BOGC and written report
- Spills between 10 and 49 barrels: Written report only
- Spill of any size not contained at the well pad: Written report only
- Any fire: Written report only
The complete undesirable incident reporting rules can be found in the Administrative Rules of Montana, Section 36.22.1103.
By my count, 16 of the incidents exceeded 50 barrels. The largest spill was 3500 barrels, on April 10 in Fallon County. Some of the spills listed on the report were not required to be reported because they were less than 10 barrels and were contained on the well pad, but Gizicki indicated that “some companies report everything.”
It is unknown how many companies comply with Montana rules, and whether there are any spills that went unreported.
This is why we need to act
By my calculation, 74 incidents in less than six months is about three incidents a week. More than one spill per week is not contained on the well pad, meaning the spill leaks into the soil.
No one who follows oil and gas issues should be surprised by the frequency of these incidents. Oil drilling is a dirty business.
But landowners should be extremely concerned about the failure of the state to protect them from the dangers of drilling. As we have often documented, the state of Montana does a poor job of reigning in the oil companies:
- The primary mission of the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation, the primary regulating body for oil and gas, is to promote the drilling of oil wells for profit, not to protect the rights of Montana residents.
- The Montana Legislature has not passed any laws in its last two biannual sessions protecting its citizens from the dangers of oil and gas drilling, and has refused to fund the replenishment of infrastructure damaged by drilling.
- State protections against water contamination are grossly inadequate.
- Montana is the only one of the 11 largest oil-producing states that has no rules regarding the setback of wells from occupied dwellings or water supplies.
This is why local citizens in Carbon and Stillwater counties are fighting for local regulation of oil and gas activities through a process called citizen initiated zoning. Residents of the Silvertip Zone in Belfry have filed suit against the Carbon County Commissioners to assert their right to form a zone, and residents in Stillwater County will soon be presenting over 300 signatures from local landowners to establish a zone in the Nye area.
For information on what a citizen initiated zone would do, click here.