- Beartooth landowners victorious in lawsuit against Stillwater County
- PLEASE NOTE: Change in Zoom access code for today’s hearing
- Action alert: Watch court hearing on Zoom, Thursday, 2:00 pm
- Action alert: Stillwater County Planning Board meeting, Wed, 9/4, 7pm
- Must attend! Stillwater County Planning Board: Wednesday, August 7, 7pm
Click to see the Preserve the Beartooth Front video
Category Archives: Legal
In a long-awaited decision, District Judge Matthew Wald ruled yesterday in favor of Beartooth Front landowners in their suit against Stillwater County. The landowners are seeking to establish a citizen-initiated zone that would place reasonable regulation on future oil and gas drilling along the Beartooth Front in southern Stillwater County.
Judge Wald granted the landowners’ request for summary judgment against the County, and denied the County’s motion. In doing so, he ruled unambiguously that the County was not justified in requiring the landowners to obtain signatures from minerals owners in addition to surface landowners. His ruling also stated that the County had set up an unworkable method of evaluating the landowners’ petitions that was in violation of the County’s own rules.
Stillwater County landowner lawsuit update: County runs out the clock on Judge Jones; hearing set for January 16
In the three months since my last update on the Beartooth Front landowners’ lawsuit against the Stillwater County Commissioners, the Commissioners have carefully followed a familiar path — delay, delay, delay. The result is that a new judge will have to hear the case, likely resulting in more delays down the road.
The landowners filed the suit last February after the Commissioners denied a petition to set up a citizen-initated zone to regulate oil and gas drilling in southern Stillwater County. The Commissioners ruled that the petition did not qualify, even though it met the legal requirement of the signatures of 60% of the landowners in the proposed zone. According to the Commissioners, the petitioners needed the signatures of 60% of the minerals owners in the proposed zone in addition to the landowners.
Delays are nothing new in this case. The landowners originally submitted their petition in November, 2015, and the County has taken every opportunity to avoid complying with the law and granting the petition, which would put reasonable regulations on drilling, not ban it.
Beartooth Front landowners last week filed the critical brief in their lawsuit against the Stillwater County Commissioners. It outlines their argument for why landowners alone, without the approval of minerals owners, should be able to establish a citizen-initiated zoning district. The argument lies at the heart of a central tension in Montana law: the self-determination of landowners to decide what happens on their own property vs. the importance of mineral extraction to the state economy.
Assuming there are no extensions, the County will have 21 days to respond, and then the landowners will have 14 days to reply. That will put the end of briefings in early October. Our attorney has asked for a hearing on the motion, and we are hopeful that Judge Jones will conduct the hearing and issue a ruling on our motion before the end of the year.
To read more, click the link.
Judge Blair Jones issued his first ruling today in the lawsuit Beartooth Front Coalition et al. vs. Board of Commissioners, Stillwater County. He ruled in favor of the landowners, denying the County’s motion for a summary judgment in their favor.
To find out more and read Judge Jones’ ruling, click the link. Continue reading
There was a familiar look to the gallery at the hearing Thursday in the Stillwater County Courthouse in Columbus. In the case of Beartooth Front Coalition et al vs. Stillwater County Commissioners, there were, by my count, 56 people there in support of the Beartooth Front Coalition, which is suing Stillwater County to establish a citizen-initiated zone to regulate land use related to oil and gas along the Beartooth Front.
They were easy to identify. They all knew each other. They are neighbors in southern Stillwater County, many from families that have been there for generations, who signed a petition to establish the zone. They greeted each other by name, offered encouragement, expressed resolve to be successful in the suit.
To find out what happened at the hearing (with photo), click the link. Continue reading
Action Alert: Please attend hearing on Stillwater County landowner lawsuit, Thursday, July 26, 1:30pm
The next step in the Beartooth Front Coaltion lawsuit against the Stillwater County Commissioners is a hearing in front of Judge Blair Jones. The hearing will be held at the Stillwater County Courthouse in Columbus on Thursday, July 26 at 1:30 pm.
This step is the first of several hearings in this case. If the landowners are successful in their suit, the ultimate outcome will be for the Commissioners to hold a hearing to consider the petition. It is critical for them to see evidence at every step of the way that landowners stand firm in their demand that their rights be protected.
Please come if you can.
To read more about the suit and the hearing, click the link. Continue reading
Stillwater County’s out of state law firm wasted no time in responding to the Beartooth Front Coalition’s lawsuit against Stillwater County by filing a motion to dismiss the suit. The petitioners have responded, and the case is in motion. This post summarizes the arguments put forward in the case so far, with links to the court documents.
Click the link to find out the details. Continue reading
The Stillwater County Commissioners have retained a high-priced out-of-state law firm to defend a lawsuit filed against them by Beartooth Front landowners. Over 60% of the landowners in the area have petitioned the County to set up a citizen-initiated zone to regulate oil and gas drilling, in accordance with Montana law.
Why would they hire a firm from out of state? And why would they hire a firm with rates much higher than would be charged by an expert Montana firm? It’s impossible to tell for sure. There has been no public notice of any contractual relationship with an outside firm. A look at recent Commissioner agendas and meeting minutes makes no mention of a contract.
But a look at the facts shows that the Commissioners have gone out of their way not only to deprive local landowners of their rights, but to establish a precedent that will end citizen-initiated zoning in Montana. In doing so they will pave the way for the oil and gas industry to operate without regard for local communities. This agenda dovetails perfectly with the national agenda of the oil and gas industry.
To find out more about this law firm, click the link. Continue reading
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
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