Neighbors petition Carbon County commission for zoning near Belfry well – Billings Gazette, Aug. 20, 2014

August 21, 2014

Categories: Agriculture, Clean Water, News, Northern Plains Resource Council

By Tom Lutey

Neighbors of an oil well north of Belfry are asking Carbon County Commissioners to protect the community from the consequences of oil and gas exploration.

At a meeting with commissioners Monday, residents of Clark Fork Valley petitioned commissioners for a special “Silvertip Zoning District,” where locally crafted rules could be imposed to regulate water and noise pollution, as well the distance separating wells, among other things.

Neighbor Bonnie Martinell, who helped gather petitions and formulate the proposed district, told The Gazette that representatives from 23 of the 28 properties in the proposed district had signed the petition. The minimum number of signatures to bring the proposal forward was 60 percent. Martinell said support was closer to 80 percent.

“We’re not trying to stop oil-and-gas development. What we’re doing is trying to put some protections on it,” Martinell said. “The biggest issue is water. We have a history of flash floods coming down where the well is located.”

The well belongs to Energy Corporation of America, a West Virginia-based oil-and-gas company that earlier this year received state approval to drill at the site. Last year, ECA said it could drill as many as 50 wells along the Beartooth Front, with additional wells in the Big Horn Basin, mostly in Wyoming.

Martinell and others, working as the Carbon County Resource Council, have been urging officials to impose environmental restrictions on ECA well drilling. The group first appealed to the Montana Board of Oil and Gas in March without success. The current zoning request addresses the same concerns.

The county plans to spend a month reviewing the signatures submitted with the petition, as well as the legality of the proposed zoning district terms. John Prinkki, Carbon County commissioner, said the zoning districts have been scarcely used in his community. Back in the 1990s, when there was an attempt to relocate the Red Lodge Airport, three neighborhoods in the relocation area adopted zoning districts that restricted airplane use. The zoning districts prevented the airport from relocating to those neighborhoods.

If the Carbon County attorney concludes the Silvertip Zoning District passes legal muster and the petition signatures are valid, commissioners will start the process of appointing a seven person zoning commission. However there would be another public hearing on the zoning district before plans could move forward.

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