Big Sky Connection


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Eric Tegethoff

August 8, 2018

BAINVILLE, Montana - A new report focusing on people who live on the front lines of oil and gas operations says they face greater risks of asthma, cancer and other illnesses.

From the group Moms Clean Air Force, "Face to Face with Oil and Gas" looks at families dealing with benzene, methane, silica dust and other pollutants from drilling.

When rancher Laurie Wilson lived on the Montana/North Dakota border, she said, her asthma became so serious that she'd pass out - and eventually had to leave Montana for her health. Today, she said, the Trump administration's gutting of methane pollution safeguards is troubling. 

"I have had to be hospitalized on trips back for my asthma," she said. "No mother, no grandmother, no Montanan should have to choose between their families and their homes, and their health. I feel that it is totally unconscionable to roll back the federal methane protections."

The administration has said the rule preventing methane flaring and venting at well sites is too burdensome on industry. A federal district court judge has blocked the Bureau of Land Management's attempt to delay its implementation, but the Trump administration now is developing and releasing a final rule to overturn this regulation.

According to the report, almost 12.5 million Americans live within a half-mile of an active oil or gas well, compressor or processor. Pediatrician Dr. Lori Byron said oil and gas development releases known cancer-causing agents, and children are among the most vulnerable to the pollutants.

"Asthma increases and worsens for people living near oil and gas production sites. For children, it can permanently damage their lungs," she said. "As a doctor practicing in Montana for 30 years, I can tell you that no child is as desperate as one struggling to get air or dying due to damaged lungs."

Melissa Nootz, a Montana field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, said it's important to keep regulations such as the methane-flaring prevention in place. She said she wants Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to know this.

"Montanans expect Secretary Zinke to take our Montana values to D.C.," she said. "We aren't interested in jeopardizing our public lands, sacred spaces, clean air or our way of life for a polluting agenda that prioritizes polluter profits above our families' health."

The "Face to Face with Oil and Gas" report is online at