Category Archives: Uncategorized

Update on Stillwater River Road rockslide

The Stillwater County Commissioners have issued an update on the Stillwater River Road rockslide. Standing rock from the slide has closed the road to through traffic from Absarokee to Nye since June 3, 2015.

click to enlarge
click to enlarge
According to the update, Stillwater County has awarded a contract to HI TECH Rockfall Construction, a general contractor specializing in rockfall mitigation and slope stabilization systems located in Forest Grove, Oregon.

For details on the work, click the link. Continue reading

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Interview: The Gas Patch with John Fenton

I have a number of topics percolating, but I wanted to share this video that found its way to my mailbox today. It’s an interview with John Fenton of Pavilion, Wyoming about his experiences with the oil and gas industry and how they have changed his life, first for worse and then, in a transformational sense, for the better.

We’ve written about John in the past. We’ve described his personal story and how politics has trumped science in Pavilion, and encouraged you to attend an event in Red Lodge at which he spoke.

But we can’t do justice to John’s story the way he can. The video is an eighteen minute description of the events that changed his life. I can’t recommend it enough to those who live in communities where oil and gas drilling is being considered. It is sobering and hopeful, and perhaps it will spur you to action. Continue reading

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New study links fracking to migraines, fatigue, sinus problems

New research suggests that Pennsylvania residents with the highest exposure to active wells are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a combination of migraine headaches, chronic nasal and sinus symptoms and severe fatigue.

The research reminds us that Montana is one of the few oil and gas producing states with no mandated minimum distances, or setbacks, between wellheads and occupied buildings. The Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation recently considered the issue of setbacks, but decided to require only notification of residents when a well is about to be drilled nearby. Carbon County recently became the first county in Montana to pass a county-wide setback restriction as part of the County’s growth plan revision.

This study is part of a growing body of evidence that oil and gas drilling has substantial negative impacts on human health. Montana remains woefully behind in protecting its residents from these health effects. Continue reading

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The Yellowstone River closing: this is what climate change looks like

A microscopic parasite is destroying the fish population of the Yellowstone River system, causing Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to take the extraordinary step of closing a 183-mile stretch of the Yellowstone and its tributaries to all water-based recreation (fishing, wading, floating, tubing, boating). The closure affects the river from Gardiner, at the north end of Yellowstone Park, to Laurel, and includes the Stillwater River.

Why such a huge outbreak, and why now?

There are those in Montana who will say that this is an unfortunate chance outbreak of this disease, but it isn’t. This is what climate change looks like. It means that, as the conditions that promote diseases like PKD proliferate, so will outbreaks of the disease.

For those of us concerned about the future of this region it is a reminder that we need to guard against activities that can threaten our water. This includes oil and gas drilling, but many other activities as well. As Governor Bullock says, “We must be guided by science.”

The science is clear.

Continue reading

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McClendon’s death leaves legacy of profit at the expense of landowners

A shocking story out of Oklahoma tells of the death of oil executive Aubrey McClendon, who was killed in a violent car crash yesterday, just one day after he was indicted in federal court for violations of anti-trust laws.

While no cause of death has been declared, it appears McClendon drove his SUV at a high rate of speed directly into a wall. According to police, “There was plenty of opportunity for him to correct and get back on the roadway, and that didn’t occur.” McClendon was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash.

McClendon is a legendary figure in the fracking boom over the last decade, and we’ve written about him several times on this site. He made billions in fracking at the expense of property owners, pushing to drill every possible well with little regard for environmental impact.

The point is to caution landowners that McClendon’s death is an object lesson in how oil companies care about profits, not the rights of landowners. If you want to protect your rights, it is critical to set the terms upon which drilling occurs on your property. Mechanisms exist in the law to do that, but you have to be vigilant and act together as community to make it happen.

Landowners in Carbon and Stillwater counties along the Beartooth Front are currently engaged in battles to do this. The fight is long, but the goal — long-term preservation of a way of life — is worth the effort.

To read more, click the link. Continue reading

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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

Posted in Legal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gianforte plans to put industry in charge of the DEQ

According to an article in the Missoulian, gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte was in Great Falls last Thursday, where he told supporters that, as Governor, he will “focus more on customer service than enforcement, in part, by placing ‘someone from industry’ or business at the helm of state agencies such as the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).”

The issue here is an important one. The Montana Constitution guarantees each citizen the right to a “clean and healthful environment”. This is a fundamental right that has existed for over 40 years.

With regard to oil and gas issues, the DEQ stands alone as the state agency charged with protecting that right. According to the DEQ’s web site, the agency’s “ultimate goal is to protect public health and to maintain Montana’s high quality of life for current and future generations.”

Gianforte’s campaign is just getting started, and his position on the DEQ may change. But Montanans should be wary of electing a Governor who is going to undercut citizen rights. And local citizens along the Beartooth Front should increase their urgency in working with county government to create local regulations that build necessary protections at the local level. Continue reading

Posted in Community Organization, Politics and History, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Steve Daines joins the carbon reduction bandwagon! Wait a minute…

No sooner did we get the exciting news from Paris about the international climate agreement than my good friend Steve Daines sent me an invitation to attend the third annual Montana Energy Conference in Billings on March 30-31. According to Senator Daines, it’s an opportunity to “continue the discussion on state and national energy opportunities and provide an all-encompassing look at Montana’s energy potential.”

I was really excited to see that our junior Senator has jumped on the bandwagon to transition Montana’s energy portfolio from fossil fuels to clean energy. This kind of leadership is exactly what’s required to help us meet the treaty’s ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions.

I went over to the event web site, where I discovered that the conference will have a “fresh new look and perspective,” and that “energy professionals, policy and decision makers at all levels” will take “an all-encompassing look at Montana’s energy potential.”

This is exactly what we need!

If you’re a regular reader, you know there’s more to this post. Click to read what this conference is really about. Continue reading

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Delegates reach historic climate agreement in Paris

Representatives of 195 countries, representing more than 95% of global greenhouse gas emissions, today 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. The goal of the agreement is to limit global temperature rise to less than 2° Celcius, along with a stretch goal of 1.5°. Continue reading

Posted in Climate change, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

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.

Continue reading

Posted in Legal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments