Beartooth Front

Following an announcement by Energy Corporation of America in October 2013 to significantly increase oil and gas development in the Beartooths, Northern Plains members rallied support for preserving the wilderness and agricultural lands along the Rocky Mountain Front.  We are working with the Carbon County Resource Council, the Stillwater Protective Association, the Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council and concerned citizens to protect our mountains, water, and air from devastating oil & gas development.

Become a member today and join us in meeting with our public officials, writing letters to the editor, educating ourselves, informing our neighbors, and being proactive in our communities. We are strongest together.

From Wildland...
...To Wasteland
From Recreation...
...To Wreckage
From Beautiful...
...To Bakkenized

Defending our voice 

In early January Northern Plains Resource Council and Carbon County Resource Council sued the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC), because they were denied their constitutional right to meaningfully participate in a hearing on December 12, 2013. The permit was administratively approved, and a checklist Environmental Assessment released simultaneously.

After the suit was filed, BOGC revoked the permit and scheduled a new hearing. Although we gave the BOGC a second chance to represent the people, not just be a doormat for oil & gas corporations, they didn’t use it.  On February 27, 2014 ten concerned landowners, living downhill from the proposed well, presented their concerns to the board.  The residents made a few simple requests on the new well:

  • To make it a closed loop system.  Reserve pits (like in this application) are out of date according to the American Petroleum Institute, and are the biggest threat to landowners downstream.  If they won’t disallow the reserve pit, then move it.  Currently it is located right in the drainage of the valley, where gully washers and floods are not uncommon.
  • To check on the water rights of the applicant.  Their proposed water source does not have a water right, nor has the applicant applied for one.
  • To require baseline water testing data be collected before and after the well is put in.  Water quality is very important for their farms and ranches, and they want to know if it becomes unsafe for their operations.  Feedlots have a rigorous process of water testing they must go through to be certified, why not oil and gas?
  • To do a more thorough Environmental Assessment.  There are many more water wells, irrigation ditches, streams, animals, and soil concerns than were even addressed in the checklist EA submitted by the board administrator.
  • To consider local impacts.  Property values, roads, and water will all suffer due to this permit, yet there is no way to protect this either.  Dust from the roads, weeds, and new chemicals can all be detrimental to crops and pastures, but none are considered when permitting a well.
  • To consider the impacts of potential hydraulic fracturing.  This application shows basic plans to drill horizontally in shale (and therefore frack), yet nothing addresses the actual plan.  Although fracking is possible, they do not have to submit plans until 48 hours before they start fracking, meaning no public input is considered, nor is the board’s.

Despite their compelling arguments, the board voted 6-1 to permit the well. There was little consideration of the comments, as board administrator Tom Richmond methodically recommended this permit be approved to the board. Richmond did require that if this well is developed, it will follow American Petroleum Institute (API) standards for the water disposal. Board member Peggy Ames-Nerud was the one no vote, explaining that she was voting for Montanans at large.

All over America, including Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota, tremendous damage is being done to rural communities and small towns by unregulated, unmonitored oil & gas corporations. We want the BOGC to act in the public’s interest by requiring the highest and best practices available to regulate, monitor and enforce any and all oil & gas corporations’ activity in Montana.  Yet, Montanan’s laws are a far cry from even the American Petroleum Institute’s standards.  If they can’t do that, they shouldn’t drill at all.

ECA steps out of the Beartooths … for now

In mid-May the ECA began drilling its well outside of Belfry.  Sure enough, neighbors spotted trucks pulling un-permitted water from a gravel pit nearby.  Through citizen action and phone calls, the DNRC quickly shut down the ECA from stealing water that is for use by farmers and ranchers in the valley.  The ECA began trucking in water from 40 miles away, in Laurel.

By July, ECA began hydraulically fracturing the vertical well. This is another step in the process to assess what is down there, and could eventually lead to drilling horizontally and fracking to reach more oil reserves. (see press release below)

In December, the ECA shared an official letter with the Carbon County Commissioners that they would no longer be exploring the Hunt Creek well, nor anywhere in Carbon County, at the time.

Citizen-initiated zoning under way

On December 15, after determined work from members of Carbon County Resource Council, the Carbon County Commissioners voted unanimously to create a small zone north of Belfry and that it is in the public interest and convenience for public health, safety, welfare and public infrastructure.

The next step is for the commissioners to create a Planning and Zoning Committee that will establish rules of the zone.  The petition to create the zone requests that the zone create basic guidelines for protection of water, air, and soil when oil and gas development comes in.

Northern Plains and our affiliates are joining together to change the way Big Oil does business in this state, and in the Beartooths. Communities across the country have banded together to impose soil and water testing standards, air quality rules, and tighter regulations on one of the most powerful, unchecked, and destructive industries in the world- and we’re setting the tone for Montana.

In the News

PRESS RELEASE: December 15, 2014

Carbon County approves zone to protect landowners from unchecked oil and gas development

RED LODGE, Mont. — The Carbon County Commissioners gave the go ahead today to create a citizen-initiated zone to protect landowners from unchecked oil and gas development. Commissioners found that the zone is “in the public interest and convenience for public health, safety and welfare, and for public infrastructure.”

“We’re very excited to move forward on this process,” said Bonnie Martinell, a Belfry organic farmer and member of the Carbon County Resource Council. “We’ll continue to work with commissioners so that this is done right and done well.”

Click here to read the rest of the press release>

The “Silvertip” zone covers more than 2,000 acres north of Belfry. It creates basic landowner protections for air, water, and land, setback requirements, and gives landowners a voice in the type of oil and gas development on their property.

“We just want them to drill to industry standards and best practices,” said Martinell.

Local citizens and the Carbon County Resource Council were spurred to action a year ago when Energy Corporation of America (ECA) announced it would drill along the Beartooth Front. The Hunt Creek well was drilled last summer near Belfry, and ECA announced to landowners and the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation that it was ready to begin horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” However, oil prices plummeted and ECA has since announced it would not pursue further development of the Hunt Creek well.

Martinell said the zone still is necessary to protect landowners when oil and gas development picks up again.

The County will publish an intent to create the district, which gives any landowners within the “Silvertip” zone until Jan. 15 to protest to the commissioners. About 68 percent of the landowners, 13 of 19, within the zone signed the petition to create the Silvertip zone.

Carbon County Resource Council advocates for responsible use of resources and protection of their unique quality of life. It is an affiliate of Northern Plains Resource Council, a conservation and family agriculture group, based in Billings.

PRESS RELEASE: Friday, August 15, 2014

Landowners in Carbon County request zone to ensure protections from oil and gas development

On Monday, August 18, members of Carbon County Resource Council and landowners in the Belfry area will present a petition to the Carbon County Commissioners to request the creation of a “Silvertip Zone,” a 3,000-acre strip north of Belfry roughly following the Clarks Fork of Yellowstone. The Silvertip Zone seeks to “maintain the quality of life, to protect surface and groundwater and soil, to require that any natural resource activity be done in a responsible way, and to protect and improve the public infrastructure and public services.”

“We have been working within the laws and finding ways to protect landowners, their water, soil, and livelihoods in the face of oil and gas development,” said Deb Muth, Chair of Carbon County Resource Council. “Oil and gas is already exempt from so many basic protections, there is a lot of room for improvement to make sure our agricultural economy is not compromised. We just want it to be fair.”

Click here to read the rest of the press release>

Carbon County Resource Council members alongside landowners in the proposed Silvertip Zone have already been to the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation to request simple protections on an oil well that was drilled this spring. They requested baseline water testing, no open reserve pits to store the chemicals, and proof of sufficient water for fracking, among others. None were granted.

Bonnie Martinell, an organic farmer near the drilled well will be presenting the petition to the Commissioners.

“This is our opportunity to see who the Commissioners are working for.” Martinell said. “Are they here for the citizens of Carbon County, or are they here for the oil and gas companies?”

The Commissioners’ meeting begins at 8 Monday morning; Martinell is scheduled to speak at 10:30 a.m.

“We hope we can work together and get this done,” said Martinell. “We shouldn’t have to be worrying about losing our water and soil in an ag state and an ag county, but we’ve learned from accidents all over the country. It’s time we do something here.”

Carbon County Resource Council is an affiliate of Northern Plains Resource Council, a conservation and family agriculture group that organizes citizens to protect Montana’s water quality, family farms and ranches, and unique quality of life.

PRESS RELEASE: Thursday, July 17, 2014

Vertical fracking begins at Belfry well

Last week the Energy Corporation of America (ECA), an oil company from Pennsylvania which is drilling a controversial well outside of Belfry, took the controversial step of vertical hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

ECA has submitted both a “Notice of Intention to Perforate or Cement” and a “Notice of Intention to Stimulate or Chemically Treat” the Hunt Creek 1-H well. A next step would be to drill up to two miles horizontally.

Click here to read the rest of the press release>

Fracking is the process of injecting high volumes of water and chemicals at extremely high pressure to break open rock layers and extract oil or natural gas. Fracking not only uses millions of gallons of water but has been linked to water contamination and health problems in communities with high fracking activity.

“This is why the state’s 48-hour rule needs to be changed, no one living around this well has been notified in any way about what is going on, nor do they have any opportunity to comment on it. That is not public participation and it is not transparent,” said Bonnie Martinell, an organic farmer near the well site. “People that are going to be impacted need to notified and have input on the things that are going to affect them.”

According to Montana code 36.22.608, the ECA only needs to alert the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation of its intentions, with minimal plans or information before it begins fracking.

“We know there is something down there that the ECA is after, and we need to be alert and prepared for major changes to come our way.  We can’t just let something happen to our community and ask for help afterwards.”

PRESS RELEASE: Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Landowners demand action against oil driller’s illegal water use

Illegal taking of water from a gravel pit near the Belfry well.

Illegal taking of water from a gravel pit near the Belfry well.

BELFRY, Mont. – Today, local farmers and members of Carbon County Resource Council filed a complaint to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) to report the illegal use of water. This weekend the Energy Corporation of America (ECA) began drilling a controversial oil well three miles northeast of Belfry. Trucks were seen taking water from a nearby gravel pit and delivering it to the ECA drill site. Currently, there is no water right or permit for use of the water in the gravel pit.

Bonnie Martinell, an organic farmer near the well site, took photos of the illegal water use.

“Just as we predicted, the company is not following the rules that every other individual must follow,” said Martinell. “The oil and gas industry believes it is exempt from rules. They simply pulled up, and started doing whatever they wanted and are taking water that belongs to all of us.”

Click here to read the rest of the press release>

The DNRC requires a water right for the use of any new water, and an additional permit for the use of surface water, such as this gravel pit. Taking water from the source until the permit is received is strictly illegal.

“I hope the DNRC will take the appropriate actions to prevent and punish illegal draws of our local water supply,” Martinell added. “As an agricultural community we respect our water rights, and we respect our neighbors. We need to make sure everyone is following the same rules, and that there is enough water for the ECA to be taking this out of our supply.”

Carbon County Resource Council is an affiliate of Northern Plains Resource Council, a Montana grassroots conservation and agricultural organization.

PRESS RELEASE: Thursday February 27, 2014

Montanans speak but are not heard

BILLINGS, Mont. – Despite the testimony of 10 landowners and affected citizens, the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) today voted to approve a permit for the Hunt Creek deep-shale well near Belfry on the Beartooth Front.

Testimony from neighbors of the drill site testified about flash floods, dry weather patterns, sandy soil, and insufficient wastewater pit lining. The local residents know the landscape and the many omissions in the proposed permit. It was clear that nobody from the BOGC or staff had visited the well site.

After an hour of testimony, the BOGC decided the original permit was acceptable. On Administrator Tom Richmond’s recommendation, members voted 6-1 to permit the well.

Click here to read the rest of the press release>

“We got to speak but we weren’t heard,” said Deb Muth, Chair of Carbon County Resource Council, an affiliate of Northern Plains Resource Council. “We talked about the dangers of drilling in a flood plain, the lack of water available to drill, and the desire to have baseline water testing in place before they start. They thanked us for our comments, then ignored our many cautions as they washed their hands of this well and the residents that go with it.”

Chairwoman Linda Nelson said it is up to landowners to test their water at their own expense, even though well tests for drilling chemicals cost thousands of dollars.

Richmond said Energy Corporation of America (ECA) could follow best practices for drilling recommended by the American Petroleum Institute, however the BOGC decided not to include these as a condition nor any other conditions landowners sought for the permit. The BOGC has the power to put conditions on or even deny a well, but today, they pushed those duties onto other agencies, and said it was powerless.

“This may be just one well, but it represents so much more.” said Muth. “BOGC’s job is to prevent oil and gas operations from harming nearby land or resources, and it did not do its job today. It failed to listen, and once again stood up for industry, not the people.”

PRESS RELEASE: Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014

Montana Board of Oil and Gas sued for shutting out the public

The Northern Plains Resource Council and Carbon County Resource Council (CCRC) are challenging in court a decision by the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) to prevent the public from testifying on a proposed oil well permit for the Belfry area last month.

A lawsuit was filed this morning with the Montana 13th District Court in Yellowstone County. (Cause No. DV-14-0027 Dept. 3)

Click here to read the rest of the press release >

At the December BOGC meeting in Billings, CCRC (an affiliate of Northern Plains) was taken off the agenda and not allowed to speak about the pending oil permit, despite having been granted the hearing and being on the agenda for weeks. This abrupt reversal came in an 11th-hour BOGC stunt claiming CCRC had not yet provided an official “service list,” although the group hand-delivered, mailed, and faxed its protest to all parties weeks in advance.

December 12 was the day of the hearing on the well of concern, Hunt Creek 1-H by Energy Corporation of America (ECA) east of Belfry, however once the CCRC protest was removed, there was no hearing for the well at all. Irrigators and other members of the public were not allowed to speak about a permit that was under consideration by the BOGC.

“Public participation is not only a vital right to Northern Plains and CCRC members – it is also a cornerstone of our Montana Constitution and the democratic processes that are at the heart of a free and open society,” said Deb Muth of Red Lodge, who is Chair of Carbon County Resource Council.

“It’s a shame that, if we want the right to speak about this proposed oil well permit in the Belfry area, we are forced to sue the BOGC. When people have to go to court just to have the right to speak, the system is very broken.”

While enforcing this technicality against the resource council, the BOGC looked the other way on an error made by the drilling company, whose start date on its application was off by a year.

“If the BOGC is going to be perfectionist,” said Muth, “then it needs to require the same standard of the industry that it does of ordinary citizens. BOGC should render this permit invalid until it allows the public to testify.”

Without hearing any public comment specific to the permit, the BOGC rubber-stamped the permit with no additional conditions or landowner protections. Citizens from the area were particularly concerned about the well’s potential to pollute irrigation water.

“They’re putting a reserve pit in a drainage and when we get flash floods, water flows right through there. But the company wouldn’t know that, nor would the board, since no one will listen to our cautions,” said Bonnie Martinell, organic farmer and producer just a few miles from the well.

“You would think they would want local input, since we know this area best, but instead the public was silenced. The BOGC appears to operate hand-in-hand with the oil and gas industry, although its job is to oversee that industry on behalf of the people of Montana,” said Martinell.

Charles Sangmeister Chair of the Stillwater Protective Association observed that, “This oil well is the beginning of what ECA says could be a large development in Carbon and Stillwater counties. We have many members whose lives and property will be directly affected by both this well and the others along the Beartooth Front and Bighorn Basin. That’s why we couldn’t stand for the BOGC to simply keep the public from testifying on this permit.”

Speaking up for the Beartooths

Background information >

In October 2013, John Mork, CEO of Energy Corporation of America, announced plans to expand development of oil and gas leases along the Beartooth and Bighorn mountain ranges.   He envisions bringing “the Bakken to the Big Horns [and the Beartooths]…and fundamentally changing these areas the way it has changed other areas of the United States.”  To read more from the Billings Gazette article on John Mork’s speech, click here.

Energy Corporation of America is a privately held company headquartered in Colorado with branch offices in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, New Zealand and Montana. They actively pursue exploration, extraction, production, transportation, and marketing of natural gas and oil resources in the U.S. and around the world.

Red Lodge residents report seeing oil tank trucks driving late at night, hauling crude from exploratory wells near Roscoe and Dean along narrow, two-lane roads.  Maps of the area indicate significant numbers of existing wells (both active and inactive) and numerous new wells under permit review.

Landowners are organizing in their opposition to expanded development to protect the seclusion, beauty, and recreational opportunities that currently exist along the Beartooth Front.  We are circulating a petition, hiring legal counsel, and developing a holistic strategy to address this situation comprehensively.  All proceeds donated to the Beartooth Front Defense Fund will be used to protect the Beartooth Front.

Protect your land and water >

Oil and gas development has significant impacts on on water quality and quantity.  Baseline testing and complete logs of well water levels are essential for proving your water quality and quantity prior to oil and gas development.  Documenting your land with video, aerial photos or ground-level photos in every season is also important.

Please reference our factsheets for details on testing and documenting existing resources as well as landowner rights.  Please visit the Resources section for a full listing of factsheets or follow the links below to selected factsheets.

Your Water, Your Rights

Hydraulic Fracturing, The Right to Know

Your Land, Your Rights – Oil & Gas Leasing

220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154