Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
North-central Montana residents last week had a chance to watch the regulation of the state's petroleum industry, while members of the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation had a taste of local hospitality. “It was great to get together with local land and mineral owners ,” Jack King of Billings, a member of the board said about a welcome barbecue held Tuesday, Sept. 9. “It’s also real nice to come out here.” Board Chair Linda Nelson of Medicine Lake also said the barbecue, sponsored by J. Burns Brown Operating Company and the Montana Land and Mineral Owners Association, was a success. She said it was good to see area residents visit with the board members. “It was nice to see the people from Havre,” she said. “They made us feel very welcome.” Going into the field The seven-member quasi-judicial board normally meets in Billings to conduct its business. It is charged with preventing waste of oil and gas resources; conserving those resources by encouraging the maximum efficient recovery of them; and protecting the rights of mineral owners to recover a fair share of the oil and gas underlying their land. In 2005, the board went into the field, holding meetings in Sidney and Havre due to the increased exploration and development of oil and gas in those regions. This year, it was invited to return to those two cities. Herb Vasseur, president of the Montana Land and Mineral Owners Association, said the association wanted to invite the board back to Havre to see what is going on in the field, and to let local residents see its business. “We wanted to show them exactly what’s happening in these areas,” he said. Three events happened with the board’s meeting in Havre, starting with the social evening Tuesday, followed by the board’s business meeting Wednesday, Sept. 10, and its formal hearings Thursday, Sept. 11. Roberta Beute of Havre, who asked questions about sulfur dioxide of the board during a public comment section of the meeting Wednesday, said she was glad the board came to the area. She said she realized they were very approachable when she talked to them during the barbecue. King said that is a benefit of holding hearings in the field. “People think it seems like an elitist kind of board,” he said. “This helps us break down those barriers.” Addressing the board’s business During its business meeting Wednesday, a relatively Informal meeting, the board heard reports, discussed issues such as a producer requesting a bond be re-instated to allow production start again on an inactive well, and opened the meeting for public comment. Nelson welcomed the people attending the meeting and introduced the board, its staff and members of other entities attending. She said she was pleased to return to the area and jokingly referred to the recently completed reconstruction of 1st Street. “We liked it so much we’re back again,” she said, referring to the board’s 2006 meeting in Havre. “We’re glad you fixed the highway for us, too.” At one point, the board addressed fining an operator for a well that had violated three regulations, with the board assessing a $2,000 fine after discussing the issue, which had already been corrected. It also addressed budget ing, wi th s taf f member Tom Richmond saying he was concerned that three items which would be paid by fees assessed on the industry rather than through the state’s general funds were not on the governor’s proposed budget. Richmond said the items one for funding a trip to an annual exposition in Houston which the board attends every other year, one for funding educational and outreach programs and another for testing the use of carbon dioxide in drilling wells in the oil-rich Bakken shale foundation in eastern Montana have not been included. “It doesn’t hurt to send a letter to the governor’s budget office and say, These aren’t in the budget and we think they should be,” he said. Formal hearings The business Thursday was very formal the board’s decisions have the force of law, with parties disagreeing with the decisions required to appeal to state district court. The room filled with attorneys and the representatives of companies with issues on the docket, with more chairs brought out to seat the people who overflowed the original seating shortly after 8 a.m. The board was scheduled to hear 77 items on the docket, with some set on the default docket and others heard in formal testimony. Nelson swore in each person testifying, typically landsmen, geologists and petroleum engineers addressing reports they had filed with their dockets and answering questions from their attorneys and from the board. Many of the dockets addressed creating permanent or temporary spacing, which determines the area of the petroleum which the company can drill, with others dealing with issues including addressing penalties proposed, requests to explore and develop coal-bed natural gas production and requests to drill horizontal wells in the Bakken formation. The field hearing held the same kind of business as any monthly meeting of the board, with some issues addressing wells from north-central Montana and others from oil fields around the state ranging from Richland County to Valley and Carbon counties. King said every docket can end up with different issues and different results. “It’s important for the board not to come in with preconceived notions,” he said. “We have to listen to all the testimony all the way through.” He said hearing from the people in the field is key to the board successfully conducting its business. “I think opening those lines of communication and keeping them open is the most important,” he said.