The Billings Outpost

Declaring war on fracking - Speakers call for focus on renewables


By WILBUR WOOD - For The Outpost

Pummeling the concept of a “War on Coal,” Tyson Slocum says, “The real war is a War on Renewable Energy” – and so begins the first of four panel discussions at Northern Plains Resource Council’s 43rd annual meeting on Saturday, Nov. 15, at the Crowne Plaza in Billings.

Slocum directs the energy program for Public Citizen, a nonprofit citizen advocacy group founded in 1971 and based in Washington, D.C., which “advocates for a healthier and more equitable world by making government work for the people.” He asserts that the war against renewable energy, and energy efficiency, is coupled with a War on Consumers. Our power bills, he says, pay to “keep uncompetitive, centralized, polluting energy systems afloat and decentralized renewables like solar and windpower off the market.”

Keynote speaker Helen Slottje ends the last panel of the day with the same message: “We know we can create enough clean energy to solve our energy problems. What we need to develop is the political will.”

‘No fracking’

Slottje, who is profiled in this issue by Stephen Dow, was here to talk about how she and her husband, David, both attorneys who run their own nonprofit public interest law firm, spent four years traveling from town to town in upstate New York with a strategy for cities and towns to use local zoning powers to keep fracking — hydraulic fracturing, “blasting oil and gas out of solid rock,” as Slottje describes it – out of their communities.

In May 2012, Elizabeth Wood and I were traveling in upstate New York, visiting friends. Along highways wide and narrow, sign after sign appeared – one word, circled, with a line drawn through it – “no fracking.” Our friends confirmed widespread local opposition to this extractive process, so hazardous to land, water, air and people in the region. Only this year, however, did we become aware of the Slottjes’ campaign and its stunning success.

Thus far, about 200 towns and cities in New York have exercised their zoning power and either declared a moratorium on fracking or banned it altogether.  And the state’s highest court has affirmed their right to do so in two decisions.

“What I’m all about,” Slottje said, “is people being in charge in their own communities.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 13:56

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Declaring war on fracking - Faint of heart can’t win, lawyer says

By STEPHEN DOW - For The Outpost

Helen Slottje was in Billings to fight fracking last week. Photo by Ed Kemmick, LastBestNews.comShortly after moving to Ithaca, N.Y., in summer 2009, corporate lawyer Helen Slottje attended a town meeting that would have a profound impact on her life.

“What we were told then was that fracking was coming and there was nothing we could do about it,” Slottje said. “My husband, David, and I were both corporate lawyers at the time. As corporate lawyers, you never want to tell your clients ‘no.’ Our general attitude on most things is that there has to be a way to accomplish what we want to accomplish. If you think about something long and hard enough, you’ll come up with a solution. And we did.”

The solution that Slottje and her husband came up with involved helping towns pass localized bans on fracking. It was a surprisingly simple yet effective solution.

“It was so simple, we thought we must be missing something,” Slottje said. “Why had nobody else seen that the emperor had no clothes? It turned out that we weren’t missing anything. Basically, people had been told there was nothing they could do and they believed it.”

Now, Slottje is traveling the country with a different message – one of empowerment and hope. She was in Billings Nov. 14-15 as keynote speaker at Northern Plains Resource Council’s 43rd annual meeting (see Wilbur Wood’s report in this issue.

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 November 2014 13:56

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Illegal drilling spreading

By SARAH TORY - High Country News

Across the oil and gas rich plains of North Dakota and Oklahoma, more and more wells are popping up. And more and more of them use a technology called “horizontal drilling,” which allows drillers to bore sideways as well as vertically – multiplying the amount of oil or gas extracted many times over. By marrying this technique with hydraulic fracturing (shooting water, sand and chemicals into underground rock to release their energy stores), U.S. production has soared to unprecedented levels. But while that’s good news for the economy, it’s leaving regulators several steps behind.

A recent report from the Interior Department’s inspector general highlighted the problem of illegal drilling on federal lands. Sometimes oil companies, whose wells extend thousands of feet horizontally, are unaware they are penetrating federal land.

At least that’s the conclusion outlined in a report by the Office of the Inspector General, released late last month, which found that the increase in horizontal drilling means it’s easier than ever for oil and gas companies to operate – inadvertently or not – in areas for which they don’t have permission to drill. The unauthorized drilling means the government is losing out on royalty payments, and poses environmental risks.

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 November 2014 09:46

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Hot springs warm up winter day

By SHARIE PYKE - For The Outpost

In hot water up to your neck? That’s not always bad. Being submersed to the earlobes in one of Montana’s dozens of hot springs is a return to the womb.

And winter’s the best season to indulge. A step from steaming water into frosty air slaps you into a new perspective on the world.

The plethora of hot springs in this part of the Intermountain West originates in the giant lake of magma under Yellowstone Park, the largest caldera in the world. Cold surface water seeps underground via a thinner than normal crust, then pushes upward again at temperatures ranging from 68 degrees to a pressurized, scalding 400 degrees.

The line of natural hot springs marches roughly northwest from Yellowstone, through Montana, following a fault along the eastern front of the Rockies. The pools abound in Montana close to Yellowstone and then surface farther and farther apart as the fault meanders into Canada.

All natural pools, plunges and springs are the gift of Mother Nature and are eco-friendly. The smallest is more commodious than just about any fiberglass hot tub. And, since they use no wood, electricity, or fossil fuel, the bill to heat the water is a zip zilch nada. Superheated, natural water also requires no chemicals and no circulating pump. The water enters and flows out because of natural water pressure and gravity.

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 November 2014 09:41

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