Action Alert: Prevent the Montana Senate from taking landowner rights

A bill currently being considered in the Montana State Senate significantly reduces landowner rights in protecting property from damage from oil drilling on or near occupied buildings. SB93, currently before the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee, would reduce notification requirements approved last year by the Montana Board  of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC). Those regulations require oil and gas operators to notify owners of “occupied structures” within a quarter mile of a well before drilling.

The BOGC rule, passed last December, was the result of a 20-month process involving Montana environmental groups, with input from the Montana Petroleum Association. The process grew out of the Legislature’s rejection in the 2015 session of SB177, which would have established a 1000 foot minimum buffer zone, or setback, between wellheads and a home, water well, or surface water. The bill did not make it out of committee.

Following the failure of the bill, Northern Plains Resource Council and others petitioned the BOGC to establish minimum setbacks to protect landowners. After 20 months of hearings, testimony by landowners, and committee meetings, the BOGC passed its new rule last December. The rule requires notification in advance of drilling to any landowner within a quarter mile of a wellhead.

This rule is not particularly landowner-friendly. It does not establish setbacks preventing drilling a certain distance from a wellhead. Montana remains far behind many oil producing states (Wyoming, North Dakota, Colorado, and Mexico, to name a few) in establishing setbacks, as shown in the graphic below.

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

But it is a step forward, and credit should be given to those who put in the hours working on it. The rule does require notification and allows landowners the opportunity to protest if they feel they will be harmed.

Richmond

Richmond

SB93 would overturn this rule
But now along comes State Senator Tom Richmond (R-26) with SB93. Richmond is a former administrator of the BOGC, who represents no constituency more than the oil and gas industry. Residents along the Beartooth Front may remember him for his appearance at an oil and gas forum at the Elks Club in Red Lodge in 2015. He got almost universally negative reviews.

Amazingly enough, SB93 would throw out the results of this 20 month process and reduce notification requirements from a quarter mile to an eighth of a mile. (Download bill).

Committee hearing
At the Energy and Telecommunications Committee hearing earlier this month, Richmond justified the new notification distance as more appropriately passed by the legislature than an administrative agency like the BOGC, and reducing the distance for notification to 660 feet because “it is a common distance used in spacing in horizontal wells.” In response to a question, he denied that water is ever at risk in drilling, and played down noise and other negative impacts because of “modern equipment.”

The only speaker at the hearing in favor of the bill was Alan Olson, Executive Director of the Montana Petroleum Association, who had the temerity to say that if setbacks were installed, “there wouldn’t be any room in the state to drill a well.”

Several groups spoke against the bill, including Northern Plains, Montana Environmental Information Center, and the Tongue River Water Users Association.

“I mostly consulted me”
This bill should not become law
. It is a unilateral attempt by the oil and gas industry to take power away from Montana landowners. As opposed to the 20-month public process that created the new BOGC rule, SB93 arose solely from the brain of Tom Richmond. As he said at the hearing, and I’m not making this up, “I mostly consulted me.”

Listen for yourself (total hearing time is about 40 minutes; Richmond’s comment at about 26:00):

Action alert: what you can do
Here’s what you can do to help get this bill rejected:

The bill is currently before the Senate Telecommunications and Energy Committee. If it is approved by the committee, it will be voted on by the entire Senate. Please call or write one or more of the Senators who sit on this committee, letting them know you are opposed to the bill because it reduces landowner notification protections.

(Update 1/31/2017: You can send one message to the entire committee — see below.)

(Update 5/9/2017): Good news. After the bill passed both the Senate and the House, Governor Bullock today vetoed Senate Bill 93, which will not become law.

Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen (R-Culbertson) refused to sign SB 93 until sine die(last day of the Legislature) in order to prevent the Governor the Governor from issuing an amendatory veto. Faced with the choice of signing the bill as passed or vetoing it, Governor Bullock vetoed it.

Please act this week.

Duane Ankeny (R-20)
(406) 740-0629
Send an Online Message

Pat Connell (R-43)
(406) 370-8682
Send an Online Message

Dick Barrett (D-45)
(406) 396-3256
Send an Online Message

Mark Blasdel (R-4)
(406) 261-3269
Send an Online Message

Doug Kary (R-22)
(406) 698-1478
Send an Online Message

Sue Malek (D-46)
(406) 370-2424
Send an Online Message

Mary McNally (D-24)
(406) 671-1376
Send an Online Message

Keith Regier (R-3)
(406) 756-6141
Send an Online Message

Tom Richmond (R-28) (sponsor)
(406) 208-5588
Send an Online Message

Jason Small (R-21)
(406) 690-0923
Send an Online Message

Russ Tempel (R-14)
Information Office: (406)444-4800
Send an Online Message

Gene Vuckovich (D-39)
(406) 563-2313
Send an Online Message

Cynthia Wolken (D-48)
(406)444-4800
Send an Online Message

To send one message to all members of the committee:

  1. Click on the “send an online message” link for one of the senators above.
  2. Fill in your personal information at the top
  3. Fill in the legislator information as indicated below and type in your message. Your message will go to every member of the committee.

montana-senate-form

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.
This entry was posted in Fracking Information, Politics and History and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Action Alert: Prevent the Montana Senate from taking landowner rights

  1. Jane S. says:

    Thank you for this.

  2. Alex Heyneman says:

    Have sent to half of the group, do you think it is helpful to include everyone? Is there a priority list of who needs to hear from us most?

  3. Lt. Colonel (Retired, Army) Richard Liebert says:

    Thanks PTBF, and CALLING also very powerful, 444-4800. The excellent ladies and gentlemen at the message center prepare your ‘Citizen Telegrams’ in WRITTEN form which the legislators cannot refuse or delete. It does make an impact when piles of ‘telegrams’ are delivered to their desks and makes a visual impact that can’t be ignored. Your ‘Telegram’ (written message) can go to an entire committee AND five other legislators, and I usually add my house/senate representative, the sponsor and any significant others involved on the issue. A ‘Telegram’ has far more impact than digital message, but digital message via the website effective if you want to reach legislators after 5pm and before 8am the next day or over the weekend. “He who dares, Wins’!

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