Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories, "Open for business."
Earl and Sue Boardman's ranch on the banks of the Powder River is dotted with gas wells owned by the Michigan-based company Michiwest. In 1999, Earl Boardman shot a video of the dry water wells, eroded arroyos, and quagmires of mud on his property, and traveled around the state showing the film and talking about his experience. Eventually, state inspectors fined the company for procedural violations. Michiwest has now replaced the water wells affected by their development, installed pipelines, built cisterns and established rock cattle crossings through several washes on the Boardman ranch. Earl Boardman:
"We became Michiwest's sewer. They could have ruined us without ever buying us out. If we don't give them permission to cross our land, they can post bond and condemn it. They can take our property and throw pennies at us. We're like serfs back in medieval England, waiting outside the castle walls for royalty to toss their offal to us ' All the state requires is that surface owners are compensated for damage to crops. Our only crop is grass, and when the going leasing rate for grassland is $5 an acre, that compensation isn't going to begin to cover our losses.
"I think it was publicity that caused the change (in Michiwest). The oil and gas companies want revenue from methane development, but they don't want bad press. They also don't want to have any more rules made, so it is to their advantage to try to do things right if they can. My biggest gripe is not so much with the methane companies as it is with the state. The state government won't even talk about methane. No one will establish any guidelines. They won't say how much water is too much to pump. They won't consider the damage to the aquifer. They are just thinking about the money."
Copyright © 2000 HCN and Molly Absolon