Community divided over proposal to restrict oil and gas drilling along Beartooth Front in Montana

COLUMBUS — During a sometimes contentious meeting, the Stillwater County Planning board wrestled Wednesday night with what to do with a property owner proposal to zone a portion of the Beartooth Front to enact restrictions on oil and gas drilling.

“More than once tonight the legality of the entire process was questioned, and that is worth exploring,” said board chairman Curtis Jacobs, who is seeking an opinion from the county attorney about the proposals. “These are not reasonable regulations. Cumbersome and complicated are better” ways to describe them.

The detailed proposal, created by a group of landowners called the Beartooth Front Coalition, addresses issues such as: setback standards for minimum distances between wellheads and homes, schools and waterways; noise abatement; water testing before, during and after drilling; air quality testing; and soil quality testing to detect possible contamination.

Burt Williams, whose grandfather homesteaded in the county in 1915, said he joined the coalition after reading a 2013 newspaper story in which an oil company touted development of the Beartooth Front as the new Bakken. The Bakken is an oil formation in Eastern Montana and North Dakota that has seen extensive development in the past

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