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Report: Montana Needs to Mind its Own Water Business

PHOTO: A report from the Western Organization of Resource Councils says Montana needs to start tracking water usage in hydraulic fracturing. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
PHOTO: A report from the Western Organization of Resource Councils says Montana needs to start tracking water usage in hydraulic fracturing. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
April 26, 2013

BAINVILLE, Mont. – Seven billion gallons of water a year are being used in Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to get to oil and gas.

That number is in a new report from the Western Organization of Resource Councils, which points out that it's a lot for arid regions to part with, while also acknowledging the benefits of domestic oil and gas.

Pat Wilson is a rancher in Bainville who says that his area of the state only receives between 10 and 14 inches of rain per year, and every time a well is fracked – and there are 800 in the area – 5 million gallons of water disappears.

"This water, once it's used, is gone for good,” he says. “Unlike almost any other human use, it's extracted from the hydrologic cycle, never to return."

The report notes that it's up to states to regulate and monitor water use, and recommends reducing the amount available for fracking, or finding ways to purify the water and return it to aquifers, rivers and streams.

Wilson claims that state oversight has been lax, even when oil and gas companies have been caught taking water illegally – which happened about a dozen times last year.

"Instead of fining the entities illegally using water,” he says, “they developed a bill, HB 37, that would allow for more water use for oil and gas."

The governor signed that bill last week, which allows agricultural water rights holders to temporarily lease water to oil and gas companies.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT