Meeting on Potential Oil Development Along Rocky Mountain Front Draws a Crowd

By Beacon Staff

CHOTEAU – More than 160 people concerned about oil exploration along the Rocky Mountain Front attended an information meeting that included information about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Local, state and federal regulatory officials held the meeting Thursday to discuss possible developments.

Teton County environmental health official Corrine Rose said exploratory wells have been drilled but no oil is being pumped. She said the drilling has led to a lot of concern and excitement about energy development in the area.

“This is a topic that catches everybody’s eye,” said Teton County Commissioner Jim Hodgskiss. “We’re trying to be ahead of the curve, but we haven’t been able to figure out where the curve’s at.”

Experts say oil appears to extend from the Bakken formation of eastern Montana into Alberta, and south to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Officials said residents of Teton, Pondera and Glacier counties could see more exploration with the price of oil rising above $100 a barrel.

Don Judice, U.S. Bureau of Land Management petroleum engineer, said hydraulic fracking will likely be required to extract the oil, if it’s found.

“Right now, it’s a science project,” Judice said. “It could be nothing, they take their black eyes and go away. Or it could be — ‘Holy crap, we found it.'”

But he said the region is “not anywhere near” having developed fields.

“We haven’t discovered anything,” he said. “Leasing is at a feverish pitch because there’s indications there’s something there.”

Roy Jacobs said he respects property rights and understands if people want to lease land to developers, but said he “won’t live in an oil patch. It’s the Last Best Place right now. I wonder how long it’s going to stay the Last Best Place.”

Patrick Montalban of the Northern Montana Oil and Gas Association, and the president of Mountainview Energy Limited of Cut Bank, said oil development in the region could add revenue to the state.

“Jobs, taxes and income for the state,” Montalban said. “I think that’s really what it’s all about.”