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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Landowners Seek Air, Water and Land Zoning Regulations, Protection from Unregulated Drilling

State and federal laws don’t protect us from the worst impacts of oil and gas drilling,” said farmer Bonnie Martinell, one of the plaintiffs. “There are few requirements for protecting our water or how far drilling must be set back from residences. This means we have to take local action to protect our way of life and our livelihoods.

Red Lodge, MT - Today, seven landowners filed a legal challenge in state district court to the Carbon County Commission’s rejection of their petition for land use regulations to protect their private properties from the harmful effects of oil and gas drilling. The landowners collectively seek to establish the “Silvertip Zoning District” to cover nearly 3,000 acres of agricultural land north of Belfry, Montana. Creation of the district is the first step to establish solid protections for land, air and water quality, giving landowners an essential voice in the development of oil and gas on their properties. Although some oil and gas development has occurred in Carbon County for decades, the Silvertip landowners were pressed to take action in October 2013 after Energy Corporation of America’s (ECA) CEO John Mork announced plans to hydraulically fracture 50 wells along the Beartooth Front—an area that includes Carbon and Stillwater counties in Montana and forms the northeastern flank of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Mork boasted that ECA hoped to bring “a little bit of the Bakken” to the Beartooths.

Montana law empowers landowners to initiate the development of zoning regulations for the protection of their land and community by petitioning their county commissioners to establish planning and zoning districts.“We as landowners, ranchers and farmers have seen the destructive impacts of oil development in this area and we asked the County to let us safeguard our property and livelihoods by enacting these basic protections,” said Martinell. “Citizen zoning is our only tool to protect our land and we are just trying to use that right given to us under state law.” “Across the country, individuals and local governments are responding to the lack of state and federal leadership on the impacts of oil and gas development by demanding local control,” said Earthjustice Attorney Jenny Harbine.  “This lawsuit is about allowing the Silvertip landowners to protect their land and their livelihoods when no one else will.”"