Press release: New report finds oil and gas regulations do not protect local residents and communities – Nov. 7, 2013

November 7, 2013

Categories: Clean Water, Oil and gas

By Western Organization of Resource Councils

BILLINGS, Mont. — A new report released today during a teleconference by Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) shows how regulatory systems are failing to protect residents and communities from the harmful effects of oil and gas development.

waterreddown2The report, Watered Down, identifies and examines the dangers to water quality posed by oil and gas production in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

“Our members, mostly rural ranchers and farmers, are being showered with pollutants, running dry of safe water, and watching crops in the fields their great-grandfathers worked die of salt leaching,” said Bob LeResche, a member of the Powder River Basin Resource Council and WORC spokesperson from Clearmont, Wyo.

LeResche said the report documents blowouts, pipeline breaks, increasing radioactive waste, and saltwater contamination of both water and soil in the four states, including the benzene-laden spill in Parachute, Colo., the massive oil pipeline spill near Tioga, N.D., the oil well blowout in southern Wyoming, and the new hazardous waste landfill in eastern Montana servicing radioactive drilling waste from North Dakota.

Increased exploration and production activity in the region has led to more threats to rural residents, especially through spills at well sites, reserve pits and pipelines.

“From 2009 to 2012, Colorado has averaged better than a spill a day,” noted Bob Arrington, a member of the Western Colorado Congress from Battlement Mesa, Colo.

Failure to control oil and gas, as well as waste products from the drilling process, can lead to soil and water contamination.

“Along with many others in western North Dakota, I drink water from Lake Sakakawea,” said Theodora Bird Bear, a Dakota Resource Council member from Mandaree, N.D. “With 13 oil pipelines and over 200 laterals crossing the bottom of the lake, I expect it is a matter of when, not if, there is a major spill.”

“The extraction processes, transporting methods, and disposing of the associated waste are an imperfect process that will eventually result in more cases of contamination and pollution,” said Terry Punt, a rancher from Birney, Mont., and a member of Northern Plains Resource Council. “This is why our states must have stricter standards, increased transparency, and less self-monitoring.”

The report’s findings are:

  • Oil and gas drilling uses massive volumes of water and produces massive volumes of waste.

  • No federal law sets comprehensive standards for oil and gas production.

  • State regulation is piecemeal.

  • A movement toward local ordinances to provide better protections could be useful to address local concerns, but the oil and gas industry generally prefers state oversight. Many states discourage or prevent oil and gas regulation at the local level.

The report recommends:

  • Setting clear and enforceable performance standards, such as wellsite construction, waste stream testing, and waste disposal.

  • Providing and funding comprehensive monitoring and testing systems, including pipelines.

  • States should not permit more wells than they can properly oversee. State legislatures should provide regulatory agencies with the personnel and authority to manage oil and gas development.

  • Agencies should establish, promote, and adequately staff hotlines enabling residents to report problems at oil and gas sites and should respond promptly to calls from residents.

“What is needed are strong, clear, comprehensive and enforceable national performance standards for oil and gas drilling, production and delivery—standards that would help us to protect our communities from the kind of damage outlined in this report,” LeResche said. “Critical to the success of such standards are effective monitoring systems, the capacity to enforce the law with fines that will deter carelessness, and outreach programs that encourage the public to report spills and other violations in their often remote communities.”

Setting national standards is a “tremendous challenge,” LeResche said. “For that reason, we are urging state and local governments to act now to protect their constituents and their natural resources,” LeResche said. “Levels of oil and gas production are rising in our region. We cannot afford to wait.”

Watered Down is available at

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