Montana and fracking

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{{#badges: FrackSwarm|Navbar-fracking}} Shale oil and gas drilling is increasing across Montana in the Bakken formation, in Sweet Grass and Park counties, the Heath shale below Garfield, Fergus, Petroleum and Rosebud counties, and under the Blackfeet reservation.[1]


Montana has been increasing permits to explore state and private land along the Rocky Mountain Front. Companies are hoping to find that oil in the Bakken shale formation, in North Dakota and eastern Montana, extends westward to the eastern flank of the Rocky Mountains.[2]

In 2010 total natural gas production in the state was 70,175,944 MCF (thousand cubic feet), 10.74 percent less than the previous year, while oil was 25,323,108 barrels.[3] Fracking in Montana is currently taking place in Sweet Grass and Park counties.[4]

Citizen activism

In January 2014 Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) sued Montana Attorney General Tim Fox in order to "gain access to certain documents related to the public position he took on hydraulic fracturing." [5] In April 2014, just a day before a judge was to hear oral arguments in the case, Attorney General Tim Fox turned over the records MEIC demanded access to. It was not known at the time exactly what information the documents contained.[6]

Legislative issues and regulations

The Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (MBOGC) adopted new rules governing fracking that became effective on August 26, 2011. Operators of fracking sites must now obtain approval from MBOGC prior to drilling. In addition, natural gas operators must now disclose the composition of the fracking fluids used (if a trade secret exemption is not applicable). The MBOGC also mandates specific construction and testing requirements for wells that will be fracked.[7]

Water pollution: Is fracking to blame?

The rules have exemptions on chemical disclosure: Operators must disclose the chemical family, but not the exact chemical name, and well operators can decide whether products or chemicals are proprietary.[8]

Environmental groups have challenged the nondisclosure of fracking fluids as proprietary "trade secrets", which they say has too broad of a definition: “We are not sat­is­fied. We’re def­i­nitely happy that the state is finally get­ting around to doing this, but the cur­rent reg­u­la­tions are fairly defi­cient,” Derf John­son, pro­gram assis­tant at the Mon­tana Envi­ron­men­tal Infor­ma­tion Cen­ter.[9]

In September 2013 it was reported that Montana's Attorney General would join Alabama, Alaska and Oklahoma in protesting Bureau of Land Management plans to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal land.[10]

Bakken formation

Wells have been drilled along the Bakken formation in Montana, with active wells also in North Dakota. Industry experts say oil appears to extend from the Bakken formation of eastern Montana into Alberta, Canada, and south to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Hydraulic fracking will likely be used to extract the oil, if found. Land leases for fracking in the region have increased dramatically in recent years.

The first commercial Bakken well at Elm Coulee, located in Richland County, Montana, was completed in 1981 by Coastal Oil and Gas. As of 2007 the total number of horizontal Bakken wells drilled in the Elm Coulee area was more than 500 and included more than 800 lateral drill locations.[11]

Oil production estimates

The largest Bakken oil production comes from Elm Coulee Oil Field, in Richland County, Montana, where extraction began in 2000 and is expected to ultimately total 270 million barrels (43,000,000 m3). In 2007, shale oil from Elm Coulee averaged 53,000 barrels per day (8,400 m3/d) — more than the entire state of Montana a few years earlier.[12]

The Bakken Formation.

Interest in North Dakota over Montana developed in 2007 when EOG Resources of Houston, Texas reported that a single well it had drilled into an oil-rich layer of shale below Parshall, North Dakota was anticipated to produce 700,000 barrels (110,000 m3) of oil.[13] This, combined with other factors, including an oil-drilling tax break enacted by the state of North Dakota in 2007,[14] shifted attention in the Bakken from Montana to the North Dakota side. The number of wells drilled in the North Dakota Bakken jumped from 300 in 2006, with oil production in the North Dakota Bakken increasing 229%, from 2.2 million barrels (350,000 m3) in 2006 to 7.4 million barrels (1,180,000 m3) in 2007.[15]to 457 in 2007.[16]

In April 2013 a government study doubled its estimates for the Bakken's recoverable crude supplies. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated 7.4 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil in its study.[17]

Bakken land leases

Small and independent oil companies that made their start developing natural gas resources moved into the Bakken and accumulated acreage before the oil boom in the area. As such, the most sought after lands have already been leased for development. New Entrants into the Bakken must participate in joint ventures or buy out another company. This has not discouraged investment as several billion dollars were exchanged in mergers and acquisitions in the Bakken in the fourth quarter of 2010 alone.[18]

Labor Issues

According to the investigative journalism organization, Reveal, from 2006 to 2015 there have been at least 74 workplace deaths in the Bakken formation.[19]

Keystone XL Pipeline

In 2012, TransCanada included an “on-ramp” in its Keystone XL Pipeline proposal that would transport Bakken oil to the Gulf Coast. The oil is currently moved on rail cars, trucks, and smaller pipelines. The move is seen as a way for TransCanada to build up support for the pipeline, which would primarily be used to transport Alberta's tar sands from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.[20]

Fracking the Beartooth Front

In October 2013, the Denver, Colorado based Energy Corporation of America's (ECA) CEO John Mork announced that he'd like to "bring something like the Bakken" to Eastern Montana, near the town of Red Lodge. Mork also stated that if a fracking boom in the area would "fundamentally change these areas the way it has changed other areas of the United States." ECA plans on developing up to 50 wells in two zones in the region.[21] Despite the objection of 10 local landowners and local conservation organizations, ECA began its first drilling operation outside Belfry, Montana known as the Hunt Creek 1-H in May 2014.[22][23]

Shortly after ECA began operating its Hunt Creek 1-H well, it was reported that "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." [22] On August 18, a group of Clarks Fork Valley landowners appealed to the Carbon County Commission in hopes of "creating a special zoning district that would protect them from the impacts of oil and gas development." The group said they hoped to protect their land and the beauty of Montana while minimizing impacts from fracking.[24]

Fracking Badger-Two Medicine

The Badger-Two Medicine region at the nexus of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Bob Marshall Wilderson Complex, and Glacier National Park has been an attractive region for drilling and in recent years a hotbed of anti-drilling activism.

Certain parts of the the Blackfeet Indian Reservation have been opened to drilling. An Anschutz Exploration Corporation began drilling on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation near Browning in July 2012.[25]

In the 1980s Louisiana based Solonex LLC leased 6,200 acres in Badger-Two Medicine in the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

In 1985 most of the leases in the Badger-Two Medicine have been suspended when tribes and environmental activists raised concerns that they were granted illegally, without tribal consultation, and that their development would harm water quality and wildlife habitat, and disrupt the tribes’ hunting, fishing, timbering, and cultural and religious uses.

Solonex’s leases remained.

On June 2013, Solenex sued the federal government, alleging that it had unreasonably delayed the drillers right to develop its lease at Badger-Two Medicine.[26]

All four bands of the Blackfoot Confederacy, tribal leaders in Montana and Wyoming, the National Congress of American Indians, rock band Pearl Jam, former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, several retired federal agency officials.

The U.S. Department of Interior decided November 2015 to cancel leases that might have allowed a New Orleans based Solenex company to drill for oil on in the Badger-Two Medicine.



The 2013 Western Organization of Resource Councils report, "Gone for good: Fracking and water loss in the West," found that fracking is using 7 billion gallons of water a year in four western states: Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, and North Dakota.


Wastewater from oil drilling was injected into the Fort Peck Indian Reservation near Poplar, Montana, after oil drilling began at the nearby East Poplar oil field in 1952. When oil is produced, brine or produced water rich in salts and toxic metals also comes out of the ground. The oil companies injected the wastes back underground to a depth of between 800 and 1,000 feet, where it was assumed the material would stay put. But when scientists came back to the area and drilled 40 boreholes, they found the water was significantly contaminated. In 2010, they tested three public wells Poplar draws its water from and found that all were contaminated with brine. The pollution was due to a well casing failure of an injection well.[27]

Forty million gallons of briney wastewater leaked on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation polluted a river, the municipal water system and private water wells in Poplar in Roosevelt County. The Associated Press reported that the residents thought the water unfit for human consumption. In 2012 oil companies settled to agreed to monitor the municipal water.[28]

Citizen groups

Industry groups




  1. "Hydraulic fracturing and deep shale gas" Northern Plains Resource Council, accessed March 30, 2012.
  2. "Fracking on the Front" Nick Engelfried, Explore Big Sky, December 5, 2011.
  3. "Annual Review 2010, Volume 54" Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Oil and Gas Division, 2010.
  4. "Hydraulic fracturing and deep shale gas" Northern Plains Resource Council, accessed March 30, 2012.
  5. "Environmental group sues Montana AG over 'fracking' documents" Charles S. Johnson, Missoulian, February 1, 2014.
  6. "Attorney general turns over fracking letter info" Billings Gazette, April 24, 2014.
  7. "Hydraulic Fracturing" Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project, accessed February 1, 2012.
  8. "Fracking Chemical Disclosure Rules," Inside Climate News chart at ProPublica, accessed April 2012.
  9. "Montana Joins Pennsylvania In Requiring Fracking Disclosure — But Environmental Groups Aren’t Happy" Scott Detrow, NPR, September 14, 2011.
  10. "Montana joins 3 other states in protesting fracking rules" Associated Press, August 29, 2013.
  11. "Analysis optimizes well results" Brian Wright, E&P, January 3, 2008.
  12. Elm Coulee Field AAPG Rocky Mountain Section Presentation, Bill Walker et al, November 12, 2006.
  13. 2009 Magnolia Petroleum Current activities.
  14. Measure offers oil tax rate cut.
  15. 2006 North Dakota Oil Production by Formation.
  16. 2007 North Dakota Oil Production by Formation.
  17. "US doubles oil reserve estimates at Bakken, Three Forks shale" Patrick Rucker and Valerie Volcovici, Reuters, April 30, 2013.
  18. "The Bakken Boom, An Introduction to North Dakota's Shale Oil" Energy Policy Research Foundation Inc., August 3, 2011.
  19. "OSHA to take hard look at ‘big oil’ in the Bakken" Jennifer Gollan, Reveal, July 3, 2015.
  20. Philip Bump, "How the oil boom in Montana has turned railroads into a pipeline," Grist, July 11, 2012.
  21. "Fracking Montana and Wyoming’s Beartooth Front"] Pete Donkers, Earthworks, December 20, 2013.
  22. 22.0 22.1 "Defend the Beartooth Front" Northern Plains Resource Council, accessed August 13, 2014.
  23. "Denver energy company opens Billings office, plans to drill near Beartooths" Jan Falstad, Billings Gazette, October 24, 2014.
  24. "Landowners go local to head off oil-well impacts" Ed Kemmick, Last Best News, August 18, 2014.
  25. "Too Sacred To Drill," Chris Jordan-Bloch and Jessica A. Knoblauch, EarthJustice, October 22, 2015.
  26. "Too Sacred To Drill," Chris Jordan-Bloch and Jessica A. Knoblauch, EarthJustice, October 22, 2015.
  27. Gayathri Vaidyanathan, "As oil production sets in, pollution starts to migrate -- scientists," EnergyWire, November 22, 2013.
  28. "Oil drilling boom brings trouble to farm, ranch lands" John Flesher, Associated Press, September 13, 2015.

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