In December 2010, the EPA attempted to act via emergency order under the Safe Drinking Water Act against oil companies that they claimed were polluting the water supply of a small Montana town. Their attempt was appealed by these companies, and finally referred by a federal judge to mediation. However, as of last week, the EPA has finally settled with these three oil production companies operating on Montana’s Fort Peck Reservation (home to the Assiniboine and the Sioux tribes) over claims that their business has compromised the local water supply.
According to an EPA press release, the companies in question (Murphy Exploration & Production Co., Pioneer Natural Resources USA, Inc., and SGH Enterprises, Inc.) have agreed to pay out $320,000 to the city of Poplar, MT (the nearest city to the reservation, whose population of 810 is made up predominately of Native Americans) in order “to reimburse costs related to water infrastructure and relocating water wells.” The companies have also pledged to fund the monitoring of the cities water supply over the coming months, and to fund further relocation/exploration of alternative water sources if it is deemed necessary by the EPA.
The EPA’s study claims that 40 million gallons of brine (an unwanted bi-product of oil and gas drilling and production) have entered Poplar’s water supply over the last five decades, and that while the quality of drinking water has not yet dipped below the acceptable safety level, it is in “imminent danger” according to EPA scientist Sarah Roberts. Studies of the local water have revealed increasing amounts of dissolved metals, chloride, and sodium in past years. The Poplar Public Water Resource carries drinking water to serve 3000 people in the greater Poplar area.