We’ve often said that the road to progress on oil and gas issues is long, so it’s nice to get small victories along the way.
The Montana Supreme Court this month denied a motion to dismiss the Silvertip zoning case by the Carbon County Commission. The decision allows the case to continue and be heard by the Supreme Court in early 2016.
In 2014, a group of Belfry landowners petitioned the Carbon County Commissioners to grant the protections of citizen zoning after Energy Corporation of America announced plans in October 2013 to hydraulically fracture 50 wells along the Beartooth Front, an area that includes Carbon and Stillwater counties in Montana and forms the northeastern flank of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Mork boasted that ECA hoped to bring “a little bit of the Bakken” to the Beartooths.
The group sought to establish the Silvertip Zoning District, which would include nearly 3,000 acres of agricultural land north of Belfry. Montana law empowers landowners to initiate the development of zoning regulations for the protection of their land and community by petitioning their county commissioners to establish planning and zoning districts.
After initially approving the district, the Commissioners last January voted to deny the zone. The Commission’s rejection was based on the opposition of certain neighboring landowners under a provision of the law that the plaintiffs argue is unconstitutional.
In February of this year, the petitioners filed a legal challenge to the Carbon County Commission’s decision to reject their petition. In a narrow ruling, Judge Blair Jones on July 8 dismissed the lawsuit without ruling on the merits of the landowners’ legal challenge.
In August, the Silvertip landowners appealed a ruling in a lawsuit they filed to assert their rights to protect their land against the harmful effects of oil and gas drilling. The appeal will go to the Montana Supreme Court.
The opening brief for the Silvertip landowners is due on November 18. The response of the Carbon County Commissioners and the protestors will be due on December 18, and the Silvertip landowners will submit a reply brief by January 4.
We will keep you updated on the schedule of the actual hearing before the Supreme Court.
You can read documents related to the case below:
- Why Silvertip landowners filed suit against the Carbon County Commissioners
- Silvertip landowners original legal challenge to Carbon County Commission’s rejection of their petition for land use regulation – February 12, 2015
- Judge Blair Jones’ ruling in District Court in Silvertip Zoning case – July 8, 2015
- Silvertip landowners notice of appeal to Montana Supreme Court – August 7, 2015
- Motion to dismiss appeal of Judge Jones’ ruling – August 20, 2015
- Silvertip landowners’ response to dismissal motion – August 28, 2015
- Montana Supreme Court order denying motion to dismiss – September 8, 2015
- Timeline of events related to the formation of the Silvertip Zone