This week marked the beginning of a Bureau of Land Management scoping process to garner public opinion about oil and natural gas drilling on the Rocky Mountain Front.
During this specific process the BLM is analyzing only one oil pad, a lease site of approximately 400 feet by 400 feet that may house three well sites. That pad is located northwest of Choteau in the Blackleaf Wildlife Management Area, and more specifically in the Blindhorse Outstanding Natural Area. The leaseholder is Canadian company Startech Energy.
An Environmental Impact Statement, to be released after scoping is finished, will additionally consider the cumulative effects of eight well sites that could be developed in the area in the future. The agency calls its stance a Reasonable Foreseeable Development Scenario.
“Nobody has proposed those wells, yet,” said Don Judice, a BLM Oil and Gas Field Station supervisor. “We look at the likeliness of cumulative impacts to the area if additional drilling occurs. At this time, there are eight drilling sites that could be drilled in the future. But all of those would require an additional NEPA document.”
The Wilderness Society’s Jennifer Ferenstein suspects this could be the beginning of a larger process that will open up much of the Front to drilling.
“Once the barn door opens, it’s hard to know if we’ll get the horse back in,” Ferenstein said.
The lease for oil and gas development in the Blindhorse was granted in 1973, before the area became an Outstanding Natural Area in 1984, and before the full value of the Rocky Mountain Front was understood.
“We know a lot of things about the value of that area now, such as the grizzly habitat, and potential for outfitting services,” Ferenstein said. “The BLM wasn’t thinking of those things when they leased that area.”
Along the entire Rocky Mountain Front, leases exist for 43 new wells. If developed, these could lead to 71 miles of new roads and pipeline. BLM is currently accepting comments on the proposal.