Resource group seeks transparency from Board of Oil and Gas
The Northern Plains Resource Council has delivered a formal letter to the Montana Board
of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) requesting the regulatory agency to uphold the Montana Constitution.
The letter calls attention to the fact that the BOGC does not provide public access to usable information that would allow the public to know about the impacts of oil and gas development. The lack of transparency by this quasi-judicial body denies citizens the right to participate in the operation of government agencies, the right to examine documents, and the right to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions. Citizens are not allowed to determine whether the BOGC is upholding its purpose of preventing waste and protecting mineral owners.
“Not many people in northeastern Montana have the ability to go to the Board of Oil and Gas office and find a hard copy of this kind of information, and in this day and age they shouldn’t have to. This is 2014, but the BOGC’s public access to data is stuck in the 1980s,” said Pat Wilson, Northern Plains member and Bainville rancher.
Northern Plains has attempted to research the amount of natural gas flaring taking place in Montana, as well as the number of spills associated with oil development in the state. The BOGC’s data collection and access methods, however, make it impossible for the public to research. Northern Plains complains the BOGC uses faulty data collection methods, and has no process for public access to the data that’s necessary to conduct such research.
Transparency and openness are the very foundations for public trust. The Internet is making increased transparency cheaper, more effective, and in more demand every day as Montanans come to expect meaningful access to all kinds of information, especially public records. Northern Plains believes it is time to update and expand the BOGC’s commitment to transparency and access to essential documents that affect the lives and property of Montana residents.
“People should be able to easily access information that affects their family’s health and their property’s value,” said Deb Muth, Northern Plains member and Carbon County resident. “How is the public supposed to know if a spill occurs near them if that information is hidden by the BOGC?”
The BOGC’s current standards for collecting and publishing data on flaring and spills are far inferior to those of neighboring states. In Wyoming, for instance, the equivalent regulatory agency (the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) maintains an active, centralized list of all wells that have been granted exemptions to flare over the past several years, along with the volumes flared from each of them. This list is made easily available upon request. North Dakota provides its citizens access to an online database for every spill report through the Department of Health’s website.
Northern Plains, therefore, formally requests that the BOGC bring its standards of data transparency up to modern standards. Public access to information should be a high priority with the BOGC. This information should be published on the BOGC website and interested citizens should be able to determine, with reasonable ease, where flaring and spills occur and to what extent.