Like it or not, oil and gas development is coming our way

46_hallway_1996SPILL OVER CROWD  — Myrna and Gerald Christensen of Conrad had to sit in the hallway at the Stage-Stop Inn on Thursday in Choteau as the meeting room for the public meeting on impact of gas and oil development filled up quickly. Interested folks lined both sides of a hallway and filled up the lobby of the motel. A sound system was set up so they could hear each presentation.  I-O Photo by Buck Traxler

By Buck Traxler, I-O Editor

The Bakkan oil fields in northwestern North Dakota have been called the largest U.S. oil discovery since the Alaskan oil strike.

With oil and natural gas production already underway in the northern tier of the Golden Triangle, Pondera-Teton County Sanitarian Corrine Rose commented, “I thought it would be beneficial to put together a panel of folks who are knowledgeable in the current oil and gas well development process and water and housing regulations.”

The informal meeting was held Thursday in Choteau at the Stage-Stop Inn. So many folks showed up and filled the meeting room to capacity that spill-over people lined both sides of a hallway and filled the motel lobby. Because of the interest, a second informational meeting will be planned, Rose said.

Three presenters included Don Judice, an engineer, from the BLM in Great Falls, speaking on hydraulic fracturing, Joe Meek, Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on drinking well monitoring and Steve Kilbreath, DEQ, talking on developing RV and mobile home parks and subdividing to provide housing.

Drilling wells have already arrived. Judice said there are about 24 wells on federal lands on the Blackfeet Reservation and at least that many in the permitting stage.

In addition seven wells have been drilled in Pondera and Teton counties on non-federal land.

A favorite phrase of his, repeated a number of times, was that, “This is a science project.”

Judice touched on fracking, which he noted has actually been around for a long time, since 1947.

It involves a 98 percent mix of sand and water and two percent chemicals. The drilling creates spaces in rock underground to release the oil and natural gas so it can flow to the surface.

Water “fractures” the rock and sand is injected into the cracks to hold them open.

Meek said the impact with heavy equipment and hauling water is one concern that needs to be looked at. He also told the crowd, “We’re used to living with wells, we’ve been living with it whether we knew it or not. That last part was in reference to fracking.”

Kilbreath said he was back east in Sidney recently to witness what was going on.

Among other things he noted, a McDonald restaurant there couldn’t open because they couldn’t find workers at $15-$16 per hour and the city can’t find water workers who also won’t work for $15-$16 per hour when they can drive truck for $2,200 a week.

He also noted that there are three motels under construction right now and each one is already booked up for the next two years.

New workers to the area are making a huge demand for new housing, RV parks, man camps, mobile parks and their water and sewage systems at Sidney, are “taxed to the max,” he said.

All three presenters agreed that the high turnout showed a citizen concern about gas and oil development in northcentral Montana.