Oil & Gas
- Fracking in Montana is depleting our clean water
- Methane flaring pollutes our air
- Transport by rail or pipeline threatens our land, water and people.
On January 14, 2016, nearly 30 Northern Plains members and allies from across the state loaded into a pair of 15-passenger vans (and others in their own vehicles), and took a road trip to Spokane Valley to testify at a public hearing on the proposed Tesoro Savage oil terminal in Vancouver, Washington.
The voices of Montanans joined the large majority of nearly 300 people raising numerous issues overlooked by the project’s draft environmental impact statement.
If built, the oil terminal, proposed by the Tesoro refining corporation and the Savage supply chain management company, would be the largest crude oil-by-rail terminal in North America. For Montana rail communities, the terminal would mean eight more mile-long oil trains, loaded or empty, added to the rails every day. That translates to at least 360,000 barrels of Bakken crude passing through Montana communities on a daily basis.
Despite the serious potential impacts to Montana’s rail communities, the project’s draft EIS fails to seriously consider these risks, especially regarding the public health and safety of people living along the tracks. Even though the DEIS reviews the risks of derailment and explosion for Washington communities, no towns in Montana (where a majority of the impacted rail is located) or Idaho are included in the analysis. Even more concerning, the DEIS assumes all eight of the added oil trains would exclusively use the Hi-Line rail route through Montana because this is the shortest route from the Bakken across the state. However, with BNSF determining delivery routes, there is no way to ensure the added traffic will not impact the southern Montana lines as well.
“Our state, our residents, and our landscapes will be affected by this proposed oil terminal, but these effects were not adequately addressed in the draft EIS” testified Kate French of Bozeman, Chair of Northern Plains. “This exclusion is unacceptable and our concerns deserve sincere consideration. The final EIS needs to take into consideration the impacts that the terminal would have on all Montana rail communities, not just the Hi-Line route assumed in the EIS, but the “low-line” route that affects so many of our larger communities in Montana.”
John Woodland, recently retired Fire Chief for Superior, spoke at the hearing on the dangers added oil train traffic poises to emergency responders. “Like most communities along the tracks, our little volunteer department is in no way equipped to handle a spill or explosion,” testified Woodland. “We have a few five-gallon jugs of class B foam, and a volunteer response of between 9 and 14 volunteers for any one incident. Such an incident could also prevent several of our volunteers from even reaching the fire hall.”
The hearing in Spokane Valley was the third and final hearing on the Tesoro-Savage proposal’s DEIS. Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council will give Gov. Jay Inslee a recommendation on the project. Gov. Inslee will make the final decision on whether to authorize construction of the facility.
Oil and gas development by hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) is progressively becoming more extreme across Montana. Conventional oil and gas reserves were easy to get and easy to process, but current methods are drilling deeper at extreme pressures. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release the oil and natural gas inside. The process consumes a tremendous amount of water, which is mixed with harmful chemicals and sand.
The current extreme oil and gas development is a different animal. It’s hard to get, hard to process, and is much more dangerous than conventional oil and gas. The worst part about extreme oil and gas development is the fact that many of the costs are externalized onto Montanans. Montana landowners are put at risk so oil and gas companies can increase profits.
Fracking damages water, land and wildlife, undermines local and state governments and private property rights, and can harm communities and overburden public services.
Our goal is to ensure the long term health of Montana and the values we stand for by protecting our air, water, agriculture, ranching and unique quality of life by; putting community interests above oil and gas profits and empowering the community to guide development.
We work at the state policy level to implement laws at the Montana legislature and reform the practices of the Board of Oil and Gas to ensure responsible development that protects our water and communities.
We work at the local level in various communities to pass ordinances and zoning language that protects landowners and community members from the potential negative effects of oil and gas development.
When we win the oil and gas industry will pay its fair share to prevent and mitigate impacts, Montana landowners and communities will be empowered, and Montana’s unique quality of life and agricultural prosperity will be preserved and passed down to future generations.[/accordion]
Montana oil spill information more accessible to public
Last year saw marked improvement for transparency in data reporting for the oil and gas industry in Montana.
In response to consistent pressure from Northern Plains members, the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation began posting data on oil and gas-related spills on its website. Though this information always has been technically public, before now an interested citizen would have had to go to the Board’s offices in Helena or Billings to look at the hard-copy data.
With this data now accessible online, interested citizens can track oil, gas, and saltwater spills. This accessibility makes it feasible to easily map spills. Already, Josh Gage of Gage Cartographics in Bozeman has used the data to create a time-lapsed map showing spills in Montana State.
In early January 2015, Northern Plains Resource Council and Carbon County Resource Council sued the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC), because they were denied their constitutional right to meaningfully participate in a hearing on December 12, 2013. The permit was administratively approved, and a checklist Environmental Assessment released simultaneously.
After the suit was filed, BOGC revoked the permit and scheduled a new hearing. Although we gave the BOGC a second chance to represent the people, not just be a doormat for oil & gas corporations, they didn’t use it. On February 27, 2014 ten concerned landowners, living downhill from the proposed well, presented their concerns to the board. The residents made a few simple requests on the new well:
- To make it a closed loop system. Reserve pits (like in this application) are out of date according to the American Petroleum Institute, and are the biggest threat to landowners downstream. If they won’t disallow the reserve pit, then move it. Currently it is located right in the drainage of the valley, where gully washers and floods are not uncommon.
- To check on the water rights of the applicant. Their proposed water source does not have a water right, nor has the applicant applied for one.
- To require baseline water testing data be collected before and after the well is put in. Water quality is very important for their farms and ranches, and they want to know if it becomes unsafe for their operations. Feedlots have a rigorous process of water testing they must go through to be certified, why not oil and gas?
- To do a more thorough Environmental Assessment. There are many more water wells, irrigation ditches, streams, animals, and soil concerns than were even addressed in the checklist EA submitted by the board administrator.
- To consider local impacts. Property values, roads, and water will all suffer due to this permit, yet there is no way to protect this either. Dust from the roads, weeds, and new chemicals can all be detrimental to crops and pastures, but none are considered when permitting a well.
- To consider the impacts of potential hydraulic fracturing. This application shows basic plans to drill horizontally in shale (and therefore frack), yet nothing addresses the actual plan. Although fracking is possible, they do not have to submit plans until 48 hours before they start fracking, meaning no public input is considered, nor is the board’s.
Despite their compelling arguments, the board voted 6-1 to permit the well. There was little consideration of the comments, as board administrator Tom Richmond methodically recommended this permit be approved to the board. Richmond did require that if this well is developed, it will follow American Petroleum Institute (API) standards for the water disposal. Board member Peggy Ames-Nerud was the one no vote, explaining that she was voting for Montanans at large.
All over America, including Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota, tremendous damage is being done to rural communities and small towns by unregulated, unmonitored oil & gas corporations. We want the BOGC to act in the public’s interest by requiring the highest and best practices available to regulate, monitor and enforce any and all oil & gas corporations’ activity in Montana. Yet, Montanan’s laws are a far cry from even the American Petroleum Institute’s standards. If they can’t do that, they shouldn’t drill at all.
In mid-May the ECA began drilling its well outside of Belfry. Sure enough, neighbors spotted trucks pulling un-permitted water from a gravel pit nearby. Through citizen action and phone calls, the DNRC quickly shut down the ECA from stealing water that is for use by farmers and ranchers in the valley. The ECA began trucking in water from 40 miles away, in Laurel.
By July, ECA began hydraulically fracturing the vertical well. This is another step in the process to assess what is down there, and could eventually lead to drilling horizontally and fracking to reach more oil reserves. (see press release below)
In December, the ECA shared an official letter with the Carbon County Commissioners that they would no longer be exploring the Hunt Creek well, nor anywhere in Carbon County, at the time.
Please refer to our fact sheets for details on fracking in Montana protecting documenting existing resources and landowner rights. Visit the Resources section for a full listing of factsheets or follow the links below to selected factsheets.