Groups amend lawsuit over Board’s fracking rule, oil and gas secrecy
April 4, 2014
The Northern Plains Resource Council and Carbon County Resource Council, a Northern Plains affiliate group, challenged the way the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation does business regarding hydraulic fracturing, the controversial method of extracting natural gas being questioned nationwide for its impact on water.
The two conservation groups amended their January lawsuit claiming the "48-hour fracking warning" is inadequate to enable public participation. The groups also maintain the BOGC's February approval of an oil well near Belfry, Mont. remains unconstitutional. The suit is filed in State District Court in Yellowstone County (Cause No. DV-14-0027 Dept. 3).
The "rubber stamp" process by which the Board of Oil and Gas excludes the public, is made worse when it comes to hydraulic fracturing, the groups contend. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses millions of gallons of water and toxic chemicals deep underground to force oil and methane gas back to the surface. Across the country, fracking has polluted water wells and springs on which farmers, ranchers, and other rural residents rely. It's also been linked to earthquakes from the lubricated fractures.
"The fact that we were not allowed to make comments and won't even be told when a well will be fracked is insane," said Bonnie Martinell, an organic farmer near the Belfry well site. "There is merely a 48-hour warning that a company must give to the Board of Oil and Gas staff before they can then commence one of the most dangerous and controversial practices in the world."
Energy Corporation of America was permitted for a vertical exploratory well. If oil is found, ECA can start fracking and drilling horizontally with just a 48-hour notice to BOGC.
Martinell pointed out that at the Feb. 27 well hearing, the BOGC didn't ask any questions, took no time to read expert testimony that was handed in, and spent no time deliberating, but simply approved the permit without any additional conditions.
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"We spoke but the board ignored us," said Martinell.
In a related development, emails obtained through the Montana Public Records Act show BOGC Administrator Tom Richmond and BOGC attorney Rob Stutz consulted with ECA's attorney John Lee in trying to prevent public participation in the original well permitting process.
"The BOGC and ECA worked together over multiple emails to ensure that ECA used the correct language that resulted in the original hearing's dismissal," said Charles Sangmeister, Northern Plains Resource Council Board member and President of Stillwater Protective Association, a Northern Plains affiliate group in Stillwater County. "Yet, the BOGC provided no opportunity for the public to resolve the technical loophole used by ECA to prevent public comment. At the very least the BOGC should make public participation as easy as it is to get an oil and gas drilling permit."
Northern Plains leaders contend the BOGC permitting process is geared toward promoting the oil and gas industry, while Montanans' ability to participate in that process that might negatively impact their land, their water and their lives is given little consideration by the BOGC. At the February hearing, landowners went to a great deal of effort to provide documented evidence, historical data and logic to ask for further consideration and for the board to adopt conditions to protect area landowners. The board was invited to come out and look at the area to help them make up their minds but they voted on the spot to rubber stamp the permit.
"We were stunned that they wouldn't even consider what we had to say and in some cases actually rolled their eyes and mocked the landowners," said Sangmeister. "It's time this board follows the state constitution and gives citizens a meaningful role in decisions that impact our lives."
–Northern Plains Resource Council