Environmentalists press Oil and Gas officials for more public information – Billings Gazette, Oct. 16, 2014

October 16, 2014

Categories: Landowner Rights, Legislature, News, Northern Plains Resource Council, Oil and gas


By Tom Lutey

Calling oil and gas information from Montana too hard to come by and not very useful, environmentalists pressed the Board of Oil and Gas for more transparency Wednesday.

Members of the Northern Plains Resource Council told the board Montanans’ constitutional rights are being impeded because basic information about oil and gas wells is hard to get. Neighbors of the oil wells in northeast Montana must drive to Billings to get information about spills or natural gas flaring. In some cases, records are only available on paper and cannot be found on the Internet.

Deborah Hanson, of Miles City, said public access to oil and gas data was stuck in the 1980s. The Board of Oil and Gas, which manages the records, needs to move into the present, she said.

“We thought that perhaps you could take a look at what North Dakota does, and we could try on the website to get in the 21st century,” Hanson said.

North Dakota provides enough online data for oil and gas that it’s possible for the public to map the environmental history of the Bakken oil and gas wells. Northern Plains member Bill Hand said Montanans know very little about how much natural gas is being flared off oil wells in Montana. Gas flared is money lost both for mineral rights holders and for state tax collections.

“One of the things we’re most concerned about is the amount of flaring that is happening in Montana,” Hand said. “We realize that it is part of the operation. It is almost grandfathered in. Flaring is wasteful. We all recognize that it’s a natural resource that’s lost.”

Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming are making an effort to capture that gas, Hand said. Montana might do the same if more were known about how much gas is currently being lost to flaring.

Board member Bret Smelser said there is still a considerable amount of flaring occurring in North Dakota. At night looking east from Smelser’s hometown of Sidney, dozens of flaring oil wells in North Dakota light up the landscape.

In Montana, where oil wells can be several miles apart, capturing natural gas from wells and piping it to a central collection point isn’t practical, he said.

“Say oil company X drills a well in Volberg, Mont., and the nearest pipeline is 300 miles away, or 200 miles away. The price of gas is $2 and to get it to the pipeline is $3. How do we make up that minus dollar?” Smelser said. “Are you expecting the landowner or the oil company to do that?”

Oil and Gas officials said making the data more accessible is complicated. Montana has centralized collection of government data, which makes it difficult to post the information on the Board of Oil and Gas website.

“Some of the flaring data, including the flared volumes, are on the website,” said Jim Halvorson, board petroleum geologist. However, there is the possibility of a single report covering more than one well. The details in the record wouldn’t be enough for most people to tell how many wells were included in the report.

“We will look into doing whatever we can to make that easier,” Halvorson said.


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