Water is a precious commodity in this state, especially in the semi-arid lands of the central and eastern plains. For many farmers and ranchers, the amount and quality of water available can make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful year. The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation regulates water use for agriculture, mining and municipalities to ensure judicious use of this vital resource. However, one industry has been conspicuously ignored.
The oil-and-gas industry is not subject to the same scrutiny when it comes to water usage. The amount of water used by these companies is enormous, but there is little regulation of use, the potential for contamination of existing water supplies or the disposal of wastewater generated by new drilling technologies. The recent attempt by the Energy Corporation of America to take water without a legal permit at the Belfry test well site underscores the ease with which these companies can operate without oversight. Had a concerned neighbor not discovered it, water meant for all would have been siphoned off by ECA.
The DNRC is formulating a new State Water Plan to be presented to the 2015 Legislature. Once again, there is no direct mention of the oil-and-gas industry in this plan. The DNRC must consider the unique challenges this industry poses to our water supply. We urge you to educate yourselves and your legislators on this matter. Go to dnrc.mt.gov/wrd/water_mgmt/state_water_plan/.
Ray Gilbertson and Kris Spanjian