A new study says drilling is happening too close to homes; the Montana Board of Oil and Gas doesn’t care

Download the study

Click to download the study

A new peer-reviewed study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that setbacks — the minimum allowable distance between a well and occupied residences, schools, or hospitals — are too close to where people live. According to the study, the current setbacks in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Texas leave residents vulnerable to explosions from well blowouts and to air pollution generated at wells “above health-based risk levels.”

Montana has no setback rules at all. The Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) recently considered this issue, and has decided not to put setbacks in place. Pennsylvania’s minimum setback is 500 feet from any occupied building. Texas’ is 200 feet; Colorado’s is 500 to 1,000 feet.

“Five hundred feet, we know, is not sufficient,” says Marsha Haley, assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of Pittsburgh and the study’s lead author. “Unfortunately, there’s no defined safe setback distance.” The University of Maryland’s School of Public Health recommends that states set a distance of 2,000 feet from any well (see p. 91 at link) “I’d probably say that’s a good minimum distance,” Haley said. “We know there are studies that show increased hospitalization rates, decreased birth weights and increased cancer risks in those that live that close to a well.”

Montana has no setback requirements
Meanwhile, Montana remains one of the few oil and gas states with no setback requirements. That means that there is no minimum distance between a wellhead and residences, schools and hospitals.

The map below shows setback requirements by state as of June 2013. Since the map was created Wyoming has extended its setback requirement to 500 feet, and Colorado has extended to 1000 feet in some circumstances.

Source: Resources for the Future, "The State of State Shale Gas Regulations," June 2013

Source: Resources for the Future, “The State of State Shale Gas Regulations,” June 2013

Last summer the BOGC, at the urging of Northern Plains Resource Council and others, took up the issue of rulemaking for setbacks. After hearing from many residents regarding the need for minimum setbacks, the BOGC decided not to take up rulemaking, but to form a subcommittee to consider the issue.

Subcommittee recommendation
The subcommittee has now done its work, and has recommended the following, according to minutes from the BOGC’s December meeting:

“The subcommittee made the recommendation to amend the permit process to require notification to owners of occupied residences within a ¼ mile of the proposed drilling location. Operators would be required to offer proof that notice was given to an occupied resident owner. This process would allow time to file a protest and appear at a hearing.”

You read that right — no minimum setbacks, just a required notification to tell you they’re about to put a well next to your kitchen window or the lunchroom at your local elementary school. According to board member Ronald Efta, “This rule would be similar to neighboring states.” That’s true only if you don’t consider North Dakota and Wyoming neighboring states.

The Board of Oil and Gas deciding to do nothing. Photo: Casey Page, Billings GazetteThe Board of Oil and Gas deciding to do nothing. Photo: Casey Page, Billings Gazette

Local governments need to protect themselves
It is important to understand that the BOGC is an arm of the oil and gas industry. The word “Conservation” in the organization’s name refers to conservation of oil and gas for profit, not of environmental resources.

There is no statewide agency in Montana that protects citizens from potential damage from oil and gas drilling. That is why it is critical for local residents and county governments enact regulations to protect their communities. That is why Carbon County residents have gone to the Montana Supreme Court to establish a special district, and why Stillwater County landowners have submitted petitions to set up a similar district.

There is no other way for Montana landowners to protect themselves.

What’s wrong with the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation
Action alert: Your voice is needed to put strong Montana setback rules in place
Beartooth Front landowners present hundreds of petitions to Stillwater County Commissioners to set up oil and gas zoning district
All briefs filed in Silvertip Zone case; Montana Supreme Court decision is next


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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5 Responses to A new study says drilling is happening too close to homes; the Montana Board of Oil and Gas doesn’t care

  1. Lt. Col (Ret) Rich Liebert says:

    Our ‘citizen’ board shameless….I WROTE To them, others also to urge ACTION and Montana Farmers Union has policy on setbacks now, so why is the board so feckless?

  2. SUSAN.MOSES@usbank.com says:

    How do we get rid of them?

    Sue Moses Vice President | Commercial Banking Relationship Manager o. 651.466.8104 | c. 612.210.8944 I susan.moses@usbank.com

    U.S. Bank U.S. Bank Center 101 E. 5th Street, Saint Paul, MN 55101| EP-MN-S22C | http://www.usbank.com

    • davidjkatz says:

      We don’t. The composition of the BOGC is set by law. Members are appointed by the Governor. Three of the seven members are from the oil and gas industry. At least one is a mineral rights holder who stands to profit from drilling. The defined mission of the BOGC is to support drilling wells for profit. They will not support citizen rights.

      Also, no protection is likely to come out of the legislature, which meets only every two years. In the 2015 session, four bills to protect citizens against damage from drilling were proposed, and not a single one made it out of committee.

      There are two paths to effective regulation. One is through the Montana Supreme Court. A group of landowners from Carbon County currently has a case before the Supreme Court that would support landowner rights.

      The most likely way to get regulation is through local zoning. That’s what citizens are currently doing in Carbon and Stillwater counties. It’s a lengthy process, but it’s the best way to get things done.

  3. Pingback: A win for local activists: Carbon County passes county-wide oil and gas regulations | Preserve the Beartooth Front

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