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Oil and gas renaissance seen in Montana

Less than two months into 2012, many local leaders gathered to see what Bear Paw Development Corp. did for the area last year and to hear about one of the hottest topics in Montana's current economic climate — oil and gas speculation.

Bear Paw Development held its annual luncheon Friday afternoon at the TownHouse Inn of Havre, where officials came to hear about regional progress and from Montana Petroleum Association Executive Director David Galt.

The crowd was larger than usual, according to Bear Paw's Executive Director Paul Tuss, which he attributed to the area's interest in what Galt had to say.

"We saw some people there that we don't usually see at our annual meeting, " Tuss said. "So I think he (Galt) had some broad appeal.

"They really appreciated his unvarnished look at what's going on with resource extraction in Montana. "

Galt, who spent part of his career in the Montana Highway Department, told the crowd about changes to oil and gas permits and drilling in the state over the past few years.

As far as oil drilling goes, most of the action, as most know, is on the North Dakota border, near Sidney, though there is some promising activity starting up near Browning, in Pondera, Toole and Glacier counties.

Galt said there is a fault line, the Brockton-Froid fault zone, that seems, so far, to mark the end of the underground westward expansion of oil fields, but that's mostly for traditional wells.

Other parts of the state, notably in the south/southwest region, are reviving old fields with new technologies, such as CO2 injection, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, in what Galt called "a renaissance in drilling. "

He said new drilling offices were opening in Lewistown recently. A meeting this winter between oil and gas companies and local landowners and ranchers drew 300 local residents out to hear about new opportunities.

"It's going to continue to grow in that area at about the same pace, maybe faster, " Galt said.

There have been downturns in the past few years and North Dakota, with 180 permitted areas, now outpaces Montana, with 19, nearly 10 to one. Many people tend to cast the blame on overprotective environmentalists and their political influence, but Galt said that is not necessarily the case.

With the exception of one lawsuit over the possible endangered status of sage grouse on federal land in the southwest, Galt said the main hindrance to oil and gas development in Montana is simply the availability of oil and gas.

"A lot of people try to make it a political problem, but I'll tell you there's more there because God put the oil in North Dakota, " Galt said. "We have our own issues, but it's not regulatory. "


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