In October, Energy Corporation of America's CEO, John Mork, made a huge mistake. In a press conference, he declared that he would like to “bring something like the Bakken” to areas surrounding Red Lodge, on the flanks of Beartooth-Absaroka Wilderness, and then added salt to the wound and announced that it would “fundamentally change these areas the way it has changed other areas of the United States.”
Mr. Mork is exactly right — it would fundamentally change these areas. If his plans succeed, folks can expect to see changes in the scenic landscape, and in crime rates, road conditions, the affordability of rent and food, and perhaps most importantly, changes in the clean water and air currently enjoyed in the area.
While Mr. Mork will see big changes in his bank account, others will see the type of change that questions the very nature of why they chose to live, farm, and ranch there. Indeed, the Bakken has taught us a lot about change.
As is typical with companies promoting fracking in areas unfamiliar with it, Energy Corporation of America (ECA) is remaining far from transparent. I've asked the company to provide comprehensive information to all landowners within a 5 mile radius of all their current lease parcels showing where and how they hope to explore and develop. I suggested they build a website to host this information, and include in their materials not only what they may define as economic benefits, but also show where energy development has gone wrong and contaminated water wells. If they are confident of the environmental track record of their industry, then they should have no problems listing the places where things haven't worked out so well. We'll be happy to help them with that.
The company has not responded.
That could be because they clearly know the risks that come with their plans.
The Clark Fork of the Yellowstone River is no place for a drill pad.
Along the Beartooth Front, in Clark, Wyoming, a conventional gas well blowout a few years ago not only led to an evacuation of nearby residents, but has left a legacy of water contamination and rendered some wells undrinkable. ECA has just acquired new leases adjacent to that site, and on my land four miles away.
I have a water well just downhill from where ECA has recently acquired another new lease parcel. I wonder how much longer I'll be able to drink straight from the spigot, and I'm sure thousands of people from Clark to Belfry and from Red Lodge to Roscoe are wondering the same thing.
Astonishingly, there are now leases literally on the banks of the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone River.
And what ECA plans to do — fracking — is far more risky. They plan to drill at least 50 — but potentially even hundreds — of wells that require mind-boggling infrastructure and guzzle millions of gallons of freshwater.
Drill sites — sometimes requiring over 20 acres each — are bulldozed into the landscape and usually contain holding ponds in which millions of gallons of toxic waste is left to evaporate with hopes it won't leak into groundwater. Sometimes they'll drill even more holes and pump the waste back into the ground.
All of this is done for wells that will likely be largely depleted in a few short years, as is the case with most fracked oil and gas wells. The few jobs created locally — as opposed to the transient workers who live in temporary “man camps” — will come and go with the rigs, but most of the impacts will be permanent.
Clearly, ECA is willing to jeopardize the water, the land, and the air for corporate profit. They are willing to keep feeding America fossil fuels as the planet gets hotter each year and oil remains an increasingly expensive and wildly unsustainable energy source. And worse of all, they appear unwilling to engage in meaningful dialog with the people who will bear the impacts of their plans to “change” the area.