Montana Board of Oil and Gas Fails to Do its Job

by Derf Johnson

It’s only reasonable, and legally required, that Montana’s water resources should be adequately protected. It’s also reasonable and legally required that, if water is to be polluted by toxins, the source of the contamination should be identified and controlled. Unfortunately, the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (Board) doesn’t agree. Instead, it chose secrecy over public disclosure, and damaged the constitutional right of all Montanans to a clean and healthful environment.

Photo courtesy of Tony Bynum.

This past Summer, MEIC and a coalition of landowners, public health professionals, and environmental organizations filed a petition with the Board requesting that it update its regulations concerning hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The request asked for two simple things: that the public and adjacent landowners should be notified of a fracking operation before it begins, so that they can test their water; and that the absurd trade secret exemption currently in the regulations should be repealed.

The Board held a hearing in Billings in September 2016, at which it considered the petition. Many speakers encouraged the Board to adopt the rules; only one individual, representing the Montana Petroleum Association, spoke in opposition. The Board quickly voted unanimously to reject the petition, thus failing to protect the public from dangerous chemicals. The decision wasn’t unexpected, considering that the Board is a “captive” of the industry it is supposed to regulate. But the decision was, nonetheless, a disappointment for those who care about Montana’s land, water, and people.

So we’re stuck with the status quo. Landowners and water users will remain in the dark about fracking operations that could contaminate their water. They won’t have the opportunity to conduct baseline testing. And if a company decides to use one or many of the over 700 chemicals, many of them carcinogenic, in its fracking operations, and doesn’t want to disclose chemical information, it isn’t required to. This is done under the guise of the formula being a “trade secret,” with no independent verification as to whether the claim is legitimate.

What might be most absurd about the Board’s decision is that the petition merely requested changes that would have mirrored existing regulations in Wyoming, a state that “carries the water” for industry if ever there was one.