Protesters line up against Beartooth Front drilling plans

2013-10-30T05:15:00Z 2014-03-21T00:17:14Z Protesters line up against Beartooth Front drilling plansBy JAN FALSTAD jfalstad@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Nearly 1,300 people have signed an online petition protesting plans by a Denver energy company to develop up to 50 oil-and-gas wells around Roscoe and more wells in the Big Horn Basin of Montana and Wyoming.

The Carbon County Resource Council, an affiliate of the Northern Plains Resource Council, has posted the names of people who oppose horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing along the Beartooth Front.

“We actually heard about a week ago about someone asking for a permit to drill a well near Belfry and it turns out to be the same corporation,” said Deborah Muth, chair of the Carbon County Resource Council, which gathered the online petition signatures.

Denver-based Energy Corporation of America chief executive John Mork said recently his company plans on developing mineral leases around Roscoe and Dean, including some leases it has held as long as half a century, as well as Bighorn Basin wells.

“I would love to bring something like the Bakken — maybe something a little more orderly than what is going on in Williston right now — to the area in the Bighorns and other areas in Montana,” he said.

The company has opened a Billings office at 3737 Grand Ave., to develop its Montana properties.

But Muth said residents who live in the area want to protect existing agriculture and recreational resources, as well as the seclusion and beauty of the Beartooths. And water is a critical issue, she said.

“Besides the toxic spills and the accidents that happen, and they happen all the time, the amount of water to frack a well is over one million gallons of clean water,” she said.

Because multiple horizontal wells are usually located together on one pad, Muth said the water use will be significant.

“We’re talking about millions and millions of gallons of clean water that will be used,” she said.

Chemicals added to the fracking water mean fresh water is turned into wastewater and then trucked to an injection well and pumped back into the ground, she said.

“It never goes back into the hydraulic cycle and it’s gone forever,” she said.

After the Carbon County Resource Council heard about Energy Corporation applying for a drilling permit for a well near Belfry, it asked the Montana Board of Oil and Gas for a hearing to protest the application.

Since the online petition on MoveOn.org’s website was posted Friday, it’s gone viral, Muth said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 1,285 people had signed the petition. Montanans were signing at a rate 2 1/2 times more often than protesters from other states, according to a Billings Gazette count.

Protest signatures came from 34 other states, including Wyoming, and the District of Columbia. One resident from Mexico signed and one used the United States as an address.

People on Facebook also were “liking” a “no fracking the Beartooths” site, she said.

Jason Priest is a state senator from Red Lodge. He said companies have been drilling in the Beartooth Mountain region for more than 20 years.

The majority of residents in his district support oil and gas drilling and mining, he said.

“It already going on here and there are a lot of people who support it,” he said.

Priest said he’s confident oil companies will drill and ship the oil responsibly.

“There’s an extravagant permitting process that oversees these industries working in our area,” he said. 

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