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Montana oil and gas officials distance themselves from setting buffer zones between wells, homes

Montana’s Board of Oil and Gas will wait to decide whether to require minimum distances between oil wells and homes.

The setbacks, sought by landowners and environmentalists worried about well hazards and property values, are on the books in neighboring states but not in Montana. Supporters requested buffer zones of a quarter mile, more than double the distances in other states.

Not one official voiced support Wednesday for board member Peggy Ames-Nerud’s call for a vote to begin working on setback rules. Instead, the board decided to create a review panel to consider setbacks and also whether homeowners within a certain distance should be notified of potential drilling activity.

Ames-Nerud was appointed to the review committee.

“Other states do have setback rules, but what Montana has that other states don’t have is the ability to protest,” said Steve Durrett, a board member representing the oil and gas industry. “Anyone can protest any well for any reason, or no reason at all. This is also clearly a solution in search of a problem. The vast, vast, overwhelming majority of these issues are resolved through negotiation between the landowner and the company.”

In June, landowners backed by the Northern Plains Resource Council approached the board about requiring minimum distances between homes and wells. Property owners with well experience said hazardous challenges like toxic smoke from well fires, and spills were a health risk to people living nearby.

Wastewater and garbage from drilling were also concerns raised by setback proponents, who cited minimum distances in North Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado as examples for protecting homeowners, who may own the surface rights to their property, but not the rights to minerals below. In those cases where property rights are split, mineral rights holders have the right to drill, even over the objection of homeowners on the surface.

In related news, Montana panel to consider drilling buffer zones near homes.

This article was written by Tom Lutey from Billings Gazette, Mont. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


  1. Call them set back rules. They are simply a taking of rights from the mineral owners. The mineral rights are by law superior to the surface rights. The fact that mineral right owners are now very actively exercising their rights does not give surface owners new basis to fight them. Surface owners need to know what they are buying when they buy only the surface rights.

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