Tristan Scott’s June 30 story on the Blackfeet women opposed to oil and gas exploration (“Blackfeet women join together to oppose oil, gas ‘fracking,’ ” ) raises important questions about energy development on the Blackfeet Reservation.
Activist groups have used misinformation and sensationalism to advance anti-energy agendas effectively all across the country. These tactics fail to tell the whole story the public needs and deserves. Please consider the following:
We understand that we are working on lands of tremendous significance to Native Americans, as well as to those who enjoy the national forest and Glacier National Park nearby. That knowledge drives us to be even more keenly aware of our activities.
Anschutz Exploration Corporation is applying the latest technologies and practices to assure our wells are drilled and completed properly. Our exploration testing complies with the many layers of regulation that govern our activities, and we manage environmental impact and land disturbance proactively at every well site.
Contrary to a claim in the story, we understand the need to manage and preserve cultural resources as part of the energy-exploration process. Tribal Cultural Monitors observe every field activity related to oil and gas exploration. Further, Anschutz recently joined in signing a Memorandum of Agreement with the Blackfeet Tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs that provides for more effective oversight and management of cultural resources. This agreement supports advanced training of Cultural Monitors, education for primary-school students, and effective strategies for preventing adverse effects on historic and cultural sites.
Scott’s claim that as much as 70 percent of hydraulic-fracturing chemicals “remain underground where they can contaminate local water sources,” is not the whole story. The volume of water and associated chemicals that returns to the surface differs for each formation and fracturing treatment. Flowback recovery, as a percentage of the volume injected, varies from 15 percent to 100 percent. The fracturing fluid that returns to the surface is monitored and collected. Fluids are disposed of, or treated and recycled. Just as drilling fluids and hydrocarbons are isolated from groundwater sources via multiple steel casings and cement sheaths, so too are the fluids produced during flowback operations.
Modern oil and gas wells are encased in multiple layers of cement and steel that isolate them from non-producing rock formations and groundwater. It is important to note that target reserves of oil and gas on Blackfeet land are deeper underground than aquifers tapped for domestic and agricultural water supplies. They are separated by impervious rock layers that make contamination improbable, if not impossible. Anschutz, the Tribe and regulators regularly test water wells near our operations. There has been no incidence of water contamination related to oil and gas drilling or well completion.
The Blackfeet Nation has experienced increased employment and income from lease payments as a result of oil and gas operations on the reservation. It is a long and slow process to apply appropriate technology to such a vast area to unlock its subsurface mineral wealth. In the years to come, and with continued investment, the Blackfeet people stand to benefit substantially from the oil and gas resources on their land. Job growth and economic improvement as a result of energy exploration could mean welcome relief from underemployment. Anschutz pledges to perform responsible energy exploration. Further, we remain ready to inform the tribe and the public about our efforts to manage environmental and cultural impacts.
Brent Temmer is director of communications and public outreach for the Anschutz Exploration Corporation, and writes from Denver.