The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is working with citizens to update the Montana State Water Plan. The outcome is incredibly important due to the growing drought spreading across the west, and the findings of a recent study, “Understanding Oil and Water Challenges in the Northern Great Plains.”
Due to the intense levels of drilling in the Williston oil basin, Montana must develop and implement proactive and careful water management practices to protect regional resources.
The sheer number of wells needed to produce the Bakken creates a huge demand on freshwater for drilling, hydraulic fracturing, and maintenance.
Oil and wastewater produced as a byproduct during oil production is brought to the surface through these wells. This water is correlated to oil yields, so as oil production increases, produced water quantities and the associated contamination risks and disposal needs will accumulate.
Further complicating these concerns are Montana’s irregular data reporting, insufficient regulatory oversight, inconsistent rules and inadequate contamination cleanup.
The Fox Hills–Hell Creek aquifer, for example, is the only groundwater source capable of consistently producing large amounts of freshwater. Overuse has caused rapid long-term reduction in aquifer pressure. Therefore, it is overdrawn and some of the artesian wells have stopped flowing and more will dry up.
The Williston basin may be the most difficult region in America to balance oil-water risks. This balance is crucial if we are not to be drained of oil and left with dwindling and contaminated water resources in the future.
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 September 2014 10:39
When the Public Service Commission recently approved the purchase of 11 hydroelectric projects by NorthWestern Energy, our own commissioner, Roger Koopman, reminded us once again why we should have such high confidence in his service.
While a candidate, Roger emphasized the need for the PSC to protect consumers and keep power bills affordable. The courage Koopman displayed during the hydro decision to advocate for the rate-paying consumers, even while opposed by the majority of commission colleagues, speaks to the seriousness of his commitment to public service.
Why was this so noteworthy? Because of all commissioners, Koopman (who represents Butte, the headquarters of NorthWestern Energy) faced the strongest political pressure to go along with the utility’s proposal. Instead, he offered two amendments with the goal of protecting consumers and their energy rates.
He, along with commissioner Travis Kavulla, were the only commissioners to offer amendments to reduce the overall rate hit to consumers, and put NWE in the position of reasonably sharing acquisition risks. NWE would have still gotten most of what they wanted, but to the commission majority, even these modest pro-customer adjustments were too much to require of the power monopoly.
Koopman was right in asserting that consumers will be paying an excess price for these dams – partly because almost one-third of the NWE’s valuation was based on an uncertain prediction of future “carbon costs.” He was also right in eventually supporting the acquisition itself. The purchase will doubtless still be a net gain for Montanans in the long run.
But Commissioner Koopman did his best to make it a better deal that fairly balanced the interests of consumers and company. Roger deserves our thanks.
Last Updated on Thursday, 18 September 2014 15:04
There has been a lot of hyperbole in the press lately from people opposed to Legislative Referendum 126, the referendum that will appear on the ballot soon that moves the deadline for voter registration to 5 p.m. the Friday before Election Day. This change will merely ensure that all properly registered voters are able to cast a timely ballot on Election Day.
Voting is a civic responsibility and we have a duty to ensure an orderly process that grants reasonable access to all voters. The current practice of allowing late registration has led to undue delays, voter confusion and election administration mishaps that disenfranchise voters.
In Missoula for at least part of the day, normally registered voters were forced to stand in line with same-day voters, leading to long delays in voting. Some people left without voting. The long lines and chaotic conditions that result in some polling places from same-day registration have allowed some groups and candidates to hand out free food and drink to waiting voters, which comes very close to crossing the line prohibiting electioneering at the polls.
In Billings voting by same-day registrants continued past midnight – despite polls officially closing at 8 p.m. Because voters were still waiting in line, local election officials could not report election results to the public even though regular voters were done voting by 8:15 p.m.
Tired Election officials were forced to concentrate their efforts on the small percentage of potential voters who procrastinated until the last possible moment to register to vote instead of concentrating on the task of running a fair and transparent vote counting process. Security of the ballots came close to being compromised.
LR 126 is a moderate solution that makes a minor change in the registration process that is common sense. It simply asks the relatively small number of people who register to vote on Election Day (an average of 7500 of a total of nearly 500,000 voters in a presidential election) to show that the vote is important enough to them to make the effort to register by the previous Friday at 5 p.m. LR 126 is the best way to ensure every registered voter is able to exercise their civic rights, while also greatly improving the administration and integrity of our election process. Please vote yes.
Last Updated on Thursday, 11 September 2014 13:00
Your ballot for the general election offers important choices. Each of us has the freedom to vote for the candidate who best represents our beliefs.
And, we have the option to vote NO on Legislative Referendum 126. This referendum eliminates your freedom to register to vote on Election Day.
Election Day voter registration, as many refer to this privilege, began in Montana in 2006 and allowed hundreds of voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote. The referendum places unnecessary time restrictions on a person’s ability to register to vote.
The question is not why someone did not register prior to Election Day. The issue is that a voter currently has the right to register on Election Day and that right should be protected, not eliminated.
Consider the referendum proposed on the ballot as a question of your right to register and vote on Election Day. A NO vote secures your rights as a voter.
Last Updated on Thursday, 11 September 2014 12:59
I noticed an unfortunate item in the newspaper last week. One of Montana’s nominees for Congress is refusing to debate his opponent. This is not good.
One of my jobs as Montana’s elections chief is to ensure that voters have maximum access to the ballot and that democracy is convenient to them. Part of this means helping citizens be informed.
For example, my office prints the Voter Information Pamphlet that sets out arguments for and against each ballot initiative, which serves as a printed debate forum with arguments written by both sides.
I certainly don’t have the power to arrange debates, but I must take this opportunity to stress their importance. Campaigns in America have become dominated by money, and candidates speak to us mostly through mass media, TV ads and piles of mail. They sometimes do interviews or press conferences or give speeches, these reach the voters only in brief snippets, sound-bites.
Debates are different. They are rare occasions when a candidate can be directly cross-examined by reporters, moderators and even their opponent, in front of a live TV audience. What is said by the candidate is unfiltered and any voter can tune in to watch or listen. It is an adversarial proceeding, almost like a courtroom, which means that a candidate cannot hide or run.
Often times, a candidate will avoid attending debates for strategic reasons. I have always detested this as an outrageous disservice to voters. I’ve run for office seven times and have never turned down a debate. The congressional debate in Billings must go forward, and the same goes for the U.S. Senate race, the races for Public Service Commission, judicial races, legislative races, County Commission races, and every other political contest in Montana.
Anyone who refuses to debate an opponent at least once (and for statewide races, at least once in each major city), shows a terrible disrespect for voters and democracy.
Secretary of State
Last Updated on Thursday, 11 September 2014 12:57
I have a message for hunters and fishermen as well as others who use and enjoy our public land or are engaged in the business of tourism:
Not only has the Republican Party, including candidates for national office, pledged to get rid of our National Forests and other public land, their voting record stinks. Here are some examples of votes that show actions speak louder than campaign ads.
The Dirty Ditch Bill would have destroyed the opportunity to fish or float many streams in Montana. This bill passed the Montana House with 55 votes from Republicans. It was killed in Senate.
Senate Bill 400 would have added 2,000 nonresident big game licenses to the existing 20,000. It passed the Senate with 29 votes. Of those, 27 were Republicans. It was killed in the House.
Republicans voted to destroy the Habitat Montana Program but that was vetoed by the governor.
Steve Daines opposes the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act developed by a broad sweep of Montana citizens and businesses. This act would be good for our business economy and outdoor recreationists.
Democrats are the ones who are on our side in the Legislature and Congress. Republicans such as Steve Daines and Ryan Zinke are still around wanting your vote.
We must elect more Democrats this November, before these Republicans dispose of our public land and turn our wildlife over to wealthy interests.
Last Updated on Thursday, 21 August 2014 15:17