As people are learning, natural gas extraction is most likely coming to the Shields Valley. Estimates for it happening are around five years, sooner or later depending on the price of natural gas. As an indicator, this past Tuesday (Nov. 29) a presentation by the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation and the Montana Petroleum Association at the City-County Complex provided the industry perspective concerning the history and status of the oil and gas industry in Montana.
From the perspective of the Park County Natural Gas Committee, I’d like to make a couple of representative points:
The majority of the presentation was about the hydraulic fracturing process (“fracking”) with the intent of not only explaining how it is used but to indicate that it is environmentally safe. The industry continually refers to fracking as a process developed 60 years ago, implying that it is tried and true. Here in Park County the process that will be used is actually “horizontal fracturing”, where fracking is performed horizontally for thousands of feet in layers of shale. This process was introduced in the late 1990’s and is still under development. Most of that development involves not one well but a “pad” of up to 32 wells with horizontal fracturing in all directions. The interactions with the underlying geology are obviously complex, especially when there are hundreds of pads in one area. This is new technology and it is not yet proven ‘safe’ for groundwater. This leads to the second point.
I was surprised to hear Mr. Dave Galt, from the Montana Petroleum Association (as quoted in the Enterprise, 12-1-11), refer to EPA testimony last May that there was no known contamination of water from fracking. In November of this year the EPA announced it found fracking chemicals in the drinking water at Pavillion, Wyoming (http://www.propublica.org/ article/epa-finds-fracking-compound-in-wyoming-aquifer).
The bigger picture here, left largely unaddressed by the industry presentation last week, is not just “fracking” or bad things that may or may not happen to underground water but a bundle of issues involving natural gas extraction in an area such as the Shields Valley. From potential water and air pollution to massive water use, pipeline and storage spills, truck traffic, social impact on schools and law enforcement, infrastructure expansion and the economic costs as well as benefits, there are many things to be considered by the people of Park County. It’s helpful to hear the industry tell its story, but it should be only part of a more comprehensive dialog.
Park County Natural Gas Committee