Protecting the Environment from Uncontrolled Oil and Gas Development at the Legislature

Volume 21, Number 2 — February 4, 2015

PDF Version

Photo Courtesy of Tony Bynum.

Photo Courtesy of Tony Bynum.

Over the past decade, oil and gas development in Montana has experienced exponential growth and become a major environmental concern. With the advent of horizontal drilling, combined with hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking” as it’s known) there has been tremendous growth in the number of oil and gas wells, as well as in the associated infrastructure, particularly in the Bakken formation in eastern Montana. Unfortunately, fracking for oil and gas has major environmental implications, including air and water pollution, degradation of habitat, and climate change.

Oil_Rig_Wetland_Close_S

A hydraulic fracturing operation next to a wetland.

The Montana Legislature has been unwilling to pass, if not outright hostile to, any proposals that would place reasonable safeguards on oil and gas development. This is unfortunate, as oil booms are always followed by an inevitable bust that leaves communities with serious environmental damage and a dramatic loss in tax revenue. As an example, one good bill (HB 243, sponsored by Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell) that would require more stringent disclosure requirements for fracking chemicals and landowner notification has already been tabled in committee.

Sadly, it appears that Montana is once again on this path. Headlines such as “U.S. Oil Rig Numbers Plunge, Especially in Bakken” (oilprice.com, 1/26/15) and “Has the Bakken Boom in Montana Busted?” (Montana Public Radio, 1/26/15) are becoming increasingly common in state and national newspapers.

Silhouette three oil pumpsThe recent bust in the Bakken emphasize why we need strong laws on the books to make sure that temporary development does not cause irreparable environmental harm. There are a number of pro-active bills being considered by the Legislature that would protect clean air and clean water, adjacent landowners and irrigators, and Montana communities from irresponsible oil and gas development. They are described below. In addition, we have also listed a number of bills (both good and bad) that we are actively working on this session.

For a full list of bills, visit MEIC’s bill tracker. 

Bills to Support

Oil and Gas

SB 177 (Sen. Mary McNally, D-Billings).

Status:  Hearing held in Senate Natural Resources on 1/28.

SB 173 (Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena).

Status:  Hearing held in Senate Natural Resources on 1/28.

SB 172 (Sen. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, D-Crow Agency).

Status:  Hearing held in Senate Natural Resources on 1/28.

HB 253 (Sen. Rep Virginia Court, D-Billings).

Status:  Hearing scheduled in House Federal Relations, Energy, and Telecommunications on 2/2.

Net Metering & Clean Energy

HB 192 (Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman).

Status:  Hearing held in House Federal Relations, Energy, and Telecommunications on 1/19.

HB 188 (Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman).

Status:  Hearing held in House Federal Relations, Energy, and Telecommunications on 1/19.

Bills to Oppose

Coal Development Bills

SB 112 (Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip).

Status:  Hearing held in Senate Natural Resources on 1/26.

SB 159 (Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip).

Status:  Hearing held in Senate Natural Resources on 1/26.

SB 160 (Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip).

Status:  Hearing held in Senate Natural Resources on 1/26.

Energy Bills

SB 114 (Sen. Debby Barrett, R-Dillon).

Status:  Passed Senate, referred to House Federal Relations, Energy, and Telecommunications.

HB 244 (Rep. Jeff Essmanny, R-Billings).

Status:  Hearing held in House Appropriations on 1/27.