Drilling proposed in the Beartooths

Photo Courtesy State of Montana

Oil drilling in eastern Montana.

Energy Corporation of America (ECA) is proposing to expand current drilling with more natural gas wells around Roscoe and Dean (up to 50 new wells) and other areas near the Beartooths. Last week, ECA opened a new office in Billings. Chief Operating Officer for ECA, Kyle Mork said, “I would love to bring something like the Bakken, maybe something a little more orderly…” (Billings Gazette, Oct. 25) to areas of Montana, noting it would fundamentally change these areas. Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC), Billings, a statewide environmental/conservation group established in 1972 by ranch families responded, “Beartooth Front residents don’t want another Bakken. More than 850 people have already signed a petition against plans announced Thursday by ECA to develop oil and gas leases around Roscoe, Red Lodge, and the Big Horn Basin of Montana and Wyoming.” NPRC and its Red Lodge affiliate Carbon County Resource Council (CCRC) declared they are ready “to resist the drilling plans developers say would have the impacts of the Bakken oil field in North Dakota and Montana and ‘fundamentally change these areas the way it has changed other areas of the United States.’” Many residents along the Beartooth Front from Red Lodge to Roscoe and Dean live there because of the existing agriculture, seclusion, beauty, and recreational opportunities reported NPRC. "What makes us rich in this area is clean water, clear air, and safe communities,” agreed CCRC Chair Deborah Muth.

“Turning the Beartooth Front into another Bakken is like killing the goose that lays the golden egg." Mork told CCN, “Founded in 1963, Energy Corporation of America (ECA) is a privately held company that actively pursues the exploration, extraction, production, and transportation of natural gas and oil, both in the United States and around the world. ECA owns and operates approximately 4,600 wells, 5,000 miles of pipeline, and 1 million acres in North America alone. ECA has operations in nine states, including Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, Virginia, and Kentucky.” NPRC said oil tank trucks have already been seen driving through Red Lodge late at night and hauling crude from exploratory wells near Roscoe and Dean on the area’s rural, often narrow, two-lane roads. Northern Plains and CCRC received many inquiries from local residents, farmers and ranchers since the announcement and are organizing landowners in the area to oppose oil and gas development. Noise, lights, diesel fumes and road damage due to heavy trucking are big issues since drill sites require equipment, construction materials, and liquids to be brought in and out, some (NY DEP, etc.) estimate up to 1,000 trucks per well, annually. Each pad may hold up to 12 wells, each well averaging 4-5 weeks of 24 hour drilling. ECA is seeking a permit for oil and gas horizontal drilling or “hydro-fracking” in the Belfry area.

Requesting a “true vertical depth” of one mile it can extend out from its vertical depth of approximately 1000 feet with multiple sites of explosions. The Sierra Club compared an air bomb in Afghanistan at 500 per square inch (psi) to a fracking explosion of up to 15,000 psi. It stated hazardous oil-based fracking fluids rise to the top of the fracked areas within days. In 2005, an incident occurred involving ECA’s wholly-owned company, “Eastern American Energy Corp” (now “merged” into ECA). The W.VA Supreme Court case, Murphy v. Eastern American Energy Corporation stated on, “November 2, 2005, Andrew John Murphy, the decedent, had been working for S.W. Drilling Company for a little over a month, when he was directed to beat down foam on a mudpit. While working around the mudpit, Mr. Murphy noticed that the liner, which held contaminants, had fallen off the bank of the mudpit. Mr. Murphy was attempting to pull the liner out of the mudpit when he fell into the mudpit and died. Mr. Murphy was nineteen years old.” ECA spokesperson Jennifer Vieweg responded, “Unfortunately it was a very sad situation concerning a workplace accident and an employee of a drilling contractor on a work site. However, it is important to note that the individual was not our employee and no Eastern American employees were on site at the time of the accident.” S. W. Drilling was contracted by Eastern. Mork said, “ECA has been operating in Montana for many, many years. 

These existing operations are near Roscoe, northwest of Red Lodge. However, these operations represent traditional oil and gas development – they are limited deposits and our plans there do not include large-scale hydraulic fracturing.” He noted, “these new areas are located southeast of Red Lodge, in Montana and Wyoming…,” Mork added, “...we are just exploring at this point and in fact, the areas may never be developed.”  Mork explained, “We are experts – we do it very well, and we do it safely and cleanly. In fact, we have an exceptional environmental record both in Montana and across the country. We are excited to now be in Billings and are really looking forward to growing here, bringing good-paying jobs, and millions of dollars of investment to the state.” 

A number of ranchers and farmers near Belfry expressed concern at the announcement. Associated Press (AP) reported North Dakota failed to inform the public of almost 300 oil pipeline spills in the last two years. Don Morrison, the director of the Dakota Resource Council, told AP, “If there is a spill, sometimes a landowner may not even know about it. And if they do, people think it’s an isolated incident that it’s only happening to them.” It called small spills “significant, because even a barrel of oil could ruin water supplies, which would ruin countless acres of arable soil.” One wheat farmer told the AP he’s worried that “what you don’t know, nobody’s going to tell you.” He wants to know about every spill on his land. “Right now, you don’t know if there is a spill unless you find it yourself.” Chad Anderson, Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said, “There is no Montana statute or regulation requiring notice to land owners of spills. There is no one phone call to report all spills. We each have our own reporting requirements. A spill may require state Disaster and Emergency Services (DES) and national response reporting.” DEQ regs determine if certain types/amounts of oil or gas drilling spills must be reported. They do not cover every spill. Anderson said DES “will usually keep us informed.” If a company does not report, “That usually does not bode well for them,” he said. “It could more often end up in an enforcement action with any type of criminal intent.”