Dillon’s Resource Management Plan Needs to Address Conflicts Between Oil and Gas Development and the Protection of Southwest Montana’s Natural Resources
Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, alongside five conservation organizations, submitted a letter to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) requesting the agency initiate a land-use planning process for the Dillon Field Office to address the unresolved conflicts between risky oil and gas development and the protection of the natural and cultural resources within the Big Hole, Beaverhead, and Centennial valleys.
“Our clean water, world-class fisheries and public lands, not to mention the livelihoods of hundreds of Beaverhead county residents, have been unnecessarily threatened by wildly speculative oil and gas development proposals for too long,” said Wade Fellin, Program Director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. “Southwest Montana has always been the wrong place for industrial fracking – it’s past time for the public lands Resource Management Plan in the region to reflect that”.
The outdated and inadequate 2006 Dillon Resource Management Plan (RMP) permits oil and gas leasing on nearly 90 percent of public lands in the Dillon Field Office (1.2+ million mineral acres), including extremely sensitive areas adjacent to the City of Dillon’s drinking water supply, federal lands that host critical wildlife and game corridors and habitat, and parcels near the headwaters of the Big Hole River, home of the last native population of fluvial Arctic Grayling and a key driver of the regional outdoors economy.
Outdoor recreation in Beaverhead County, namely hunting and angling, generates more than $167 million each year and supports 1,400 jobs, according to a recent economic study conducted by the University of Montana on behalf of the Montana Wildlife Federation. Without sufficient protections for fish, wildlife and water, the current RMP and permitted oil and gas development threatens a significant portion of the local economy.
Of equal concern, the current Dillon RMP encourages speculative oil and gas exploration on hundreds of thousands of acres with little drilling potential. The letter states:
“Not only does the Dillon RMP open wide swaths of sensitive land to development, it encourages speculation on hundreds of thousands of acres with little drilling potential. According to the Dillon RMP, the vast majority of the field office – about 1.2 million acres, or 86 percent – has low or very low development potential, and there are no acres with high potential.”
Risking valuable natural resources and outdoor recreation activities with low-potential oil and gas development is against the best interest of Montanans and needs to be resolved in a new planning process through BLM. Montana’s last, best places should be permanently withdrawn from the federal oil and gas leasing program.