Category Archives: Legal

Montana coalition sues BOGC over fracking chemical disclosure

A coalition of Montana property owners, public health advocates, and conservation groups today filed a legal challenge to the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC), which refused last September to grant the public greater access to information about the chemicals used in fracking.

Many chemicals used in fracking are toxic or carcinogenic to humans, who may be exposed to the chemicals through surface spills of fracking fluids, groundwater contamination, and chemical releases into the air. As we often show on this site, numerous studies have documented adverse health effects in people who live or use water wells near fracking operations.

In 2011 the BOGC put rules in place regarding chemical disclosure. These rules have two major shortcomings:

1. They allow oil and gas operators to withhold the identities of specific chemicals they use for fracking from the Board and the public until after fracking occurs.

2. Even after fracking occurs, operators may continue to withhold the identity of any fracking chemical information they claim is a trade secret. They can do this, according to the rules, without providing any evidence demonstrating that withheld chemical information actually qualifies as a trade secret under state law and with no oversight by the BOGC.

To read more about the lawsuit, click the link. Continue reading

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Two Pennsylvania families win $4.2 million water contamination judgment against Cabot Oil and Gas

In a huge victory for landowners over the oil and gas industry, two families in Dimock, Pennsylvania were awarded $4.2 million in a lawsuit over water contamination from shale gas drilling. Dimock is the town made famous for its flammable water in the film Gasland.

Houston-based Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation, the defendant in the suit, had denied that it was responsible for the contamination. They had settled a similar lawsuit in 2012 with 40 other residents on the same road, but, as is usually the case in this kind of lawsuit, the settlement had included a “non-disparagement” clause that prevents plaintiffs from speaking publicly about the case.

Click to read more about this huge landowner victory. Continue reading

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Impacts of Justice Scalia’s death on the federal Clean Power Plan and Paris climate agreement

This article looks at possible impacts of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on the federal Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the Paris climate change agreement. Scalia died on Saturday, February 13.

Last December in Paris, representatives of 195 countries, representing more than 95% of global greenhouse gas emissions, reached a landmark climate agreement that will, for the first time, commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the most drastic effects of climate change. United States leadership was key to passage, with President Obama committing to significant cuts in carbon emissions.

From a policy perspective, the key to the US commitment was the Administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which will require power plants to make significant reductions in emissions. The standards limit the amount of carbon pollution released for every power plant covered by the rule, and they are the same for every plant in every state. The cuts would have their biggest impact on coal power.

The viability of the Paris agreement was threatened last week when, in one of the final decisions in which Scalia participated, the Court voted 5-4 to temporarily block the CPP. Scalia voted with the majority.

To find out what this means for the CPP, particularly with regard to its implementation in Montana, click the link.

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All briefs filed in Silvertip Zone case; Montana Supreme Court ruling is next

All briefs have now been filed in the Carbon County case before the Montana Supreme Court. In the case, Belfry landowners have challenged the Carbon County Commission’s rejection of their petition for land use regulations to protect their private properties from the harmful effects of oil and gas drilling.

The Supreme Court has previously agreed to review the case. The Court will now decide whether to schedule a hearing or make a decision after reviewing the briefs.

This case is important because Montana law affords few protections to landowners against damages that can occur when oil and gas activity takes place near their homes. Citizen initiated zoning (CIZ) is one of the few opportunities Montana citizens have to establish local regulations to protect their properties. It has been used effectively in places like Bozeman and Great Falls to establish regulations to protect citizens.

Yet that process is badly flawed. The Silvertip zoning case currently before the Supreme Court exposes some of the problems with the process. Silvertip landowners worked to meet all CIZ requirements. Their petitions were accepted by the Carbon County Commissioners, who then made the decision, after multiple public hearings, that the zone was “in the public interest and convenience,” as required by law.

Subsequent events that led the Commissioners to reverse their decision exposed some significant ambiguities in the process that will affect landowners in other counties. Cases like the current one can help to make the CIZ process more clearly defined in law so that the Silvertip landowners, as well as landowners in other communities, can take advantage of CIZ provisions to protect their properties.

To read more about the case and review briefs that have been filed, click the link. Continue reading

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Silvertip landowners’ Supreme Court case receives boost from University of Montana amicus brief

Belfry landowners attempting to form the Silvertip Zone in Carbon County received a significant boost in their Montana Supreme Court case last week when the prestigious Natural Resources and Land Use Clinic at the University of Montana School of Law filed an amicus brief in the case.

The brief is worth a read. It is easily understandable for a non-attorney, and includes a thorough discussion of the history of zoning in Montana.

To read the brief, understand its importance to the case, and read other documents, click below.

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Montana Supreme Court agrees to hear Silvertip zoning case

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.

For more information and access to documents related to the case, click the link. Continue reading

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