A Rig is Down

Sun Times file photo by Darryl L. Flowers
By Rachel E. Kelley
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 2:41 PM CST

A shrill ring invades the quiet of our bedroom. Just barely on the edge of sleep, I hear one side of a mumbled conversation, and then my husband says to me, “A rig is down.” A fairly common phrase from him, I know what it means. An oil rig engine needs a part. Rigs can’t run without engines, and just one hour down costs tens of thousands of dollars.  Despite the seduction of sleep, he’ll go save the day like an oilfield superhero. I think of him like that at times like these.

I see oil rigs every day. Similar to the Eiffel Tower, they are a massive construction of steel beams, cables, and our country’s flag fluttering at the top as if they represent something inherently American. Perhaps they do. After all, the oil rig has a reputation. The rig, whipping boy of environmentalists everywhere, has become something more than just a means to get oil; it embodies many things: greed, abuse, capitalism, rape of the earth, pillaging of natural resources, money, power, inequality, pollution.

But to some of us saving a rig is a big deal. Like saving Freddie-Mac. Or Lehman Brothers before its crash in ‘08. Or the auto industry. Like saving the California Grey Whales in Barrow, Alaska in 1988. How ironic.

I’m no stranger to irony. When I drive by an oil rig at night, and the thing is lit up like some kind of heavenly beacon of hope, I inevitably measure the angles of my reasoning and find them incongruent. The uninvited feeling of pride I get when seeing a rig still hangs decidedly under ‘need to reconcile’ in the orderly convictions of my mind.

Many times I’ve examined the conflicted feelings whose origins belong to the oil rig. Aside from its sheer size, the oil rig is not so amazing in-and-of itself. However, the bright lights and heavenly luminescence only make the feeling that much stronger like dramatic music does for movies. Oil rigs are dirty and dangerous up-close.

I often wonder if I’m the only one that sees a rig this way, but I realize the irony has nothing to do with how others see a rig. The paradox lies with me, the avid proponent of clean energy and technology, who admonishes her children to never neglect the sanctity of life, even if such life resides in a caterpillar or housefly. “We respect the earth. We respect all God’s creations,” I tell them. My son stepped mercilessly on a beetle once, and I nearly lost it. How do I remain in awe of the oil rig yet stand so avidly on the side of my earthly home?

I suppose, in my mind, hope trumps the realities of oil. The hope inspired by a rig is bigger than anything the rig may mechanically do. The rig saved us: my husband, my children, and me. Even that wouldn’t be enough for me to revere the rig this way, but it didn’t just save us. The rig saved that dirt and grease-clad man in front of me at the post office whose hands bear the evidence of manual drudgery. He’s mailing his son a Transformer toy for his birthday because he can’t be there. He’s here, in North American Siberia to save his family.

The rig saved the guy and his daughter who slept in the church parking lot under some bushes while they looked for jobs to save the rest of their family back in Washington. It saved the man lugging his meager belongings in a backpack down the side of the road on his way to find the well-springs of hope promised by the rig. His rolled-up sleeping bag slaps the back of his legs as he walks, urging him onward toward his goal.

The artist from Arizona, who custom designed welded architecture, came here too. The housing bubble devoured his dream and his livelihood as if they never were. But the rig saved him and his family.

The rig saved the guy who lost his job—there are so many of those guys. Hundreds of thousands the rig has saved. Perhaps millions. The rig has the power to save every person that comes here.

So when a rig is down, we have to fix it. The rig has lives to save.

Rachel E. Kelley “blogs” under the name “Zealous Mom” at http://zealousmom.areavoices.com/. Kelley lives in Williston, ND which she describes as “… the happiest place on earth (Sorry Disney World) where everyone has a job and makes plenty of money thanks to that fantastic industry you all depend on to run your cars.  Seriously, this place is like Mecca and I love it.” The post was sent to the Sun Times by Montana Petroleum Association.


Increase Federal Revenue By Increasing Energy Production, Not Raising Taxes

By Senator Alan Olson
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 2:41 PM CST

America’s energy producers have been a favorite target of the liberal left for the last few years, even as we’ve seen the incredible job creation produced by the Bakken economic engine.  Technological innovations, like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, have created an economic boom in many parts of the country and contributed mightily to our otherwise flagging GDP.

What thanks does the energy industry get for their contributions to job creation and economic opportunity?  They are continually threatened with a litany of arbitrary and punitive tax policies that would harm jobs and impede economic growth.

And now the Obama administration is once again ramping up the rhetoric on raising taxes on the energy industry.  Obama and his allies are dusting off some of the same tax schemes that have been rejected before due to the economic harm they would cause our country.  Despite that harm, the left needs more tax revenue to feed the massive government growth created in the past four years, and that planned in the years immediately ahead. They view the energy industry as that old, reliable easy target.

Make no mistake, the incredible government debt racked up during this administration must be addressed, in part through constrained spending and part through increased revenue.  Note that I said more revenue, not higher taxes.

And it’s this same energy industry that is poised to provide a large infusion of new tax revenue if it is allowed the natural expansion that the marketplace wants.  We don’t need to tax energy more—we just need to open all production opportunities.

A recent report by the Institute for Energy Research shows just how much potential exists to increase government revenue.  IER’s study examined energy production opportunities on federal land and waters that are currently off limits.  They found that expanding energy production opportunities could produce $2.7 trillion in federal revenue, and an additional $1.1 trillion in state and local tax revenue over the next four decades.

That’s even more revenue than the various energy tax proposals that have been floated by Democrats.  It seems to me that if we are serious about reducing government debt by increasing tax revenue, then the reasonable way to accomplish this is to increase production, not increase taxes.

But government tax revenue isn’t our only concern; in fact for most people it’s a secondary concern.  The study also showed that opening energy production opportunities on federal property would create over half a million new jobs by the end of this decade, and result in a net increase of $900 billion over the same time period, compared with the status quo.

Increasing energy taxes would have the opposite effects on jobs and GDP.  As energy companies absorb a higher tax burden, they have less capital available to invest in labor, research and development, and new technology.  That adds up to fewer jobs and a potential decline in GDP.

Finally, increasing energy production increases the supply of energy, which in turn drives down the cost of energy for consumers.  That leaves households with more money to spend elsewhere in the economy.  It also means that energy intensive businesses, like manufacturing, have that much more capital on hand to create jobs.

Obviously, raising taxes on energy would have the opposite effect on energy prices as the cost of the taxes are passed on to consumers.

Those calling for higher taxes on the energy sector in the name of increasing government revenue need to be honest.  There’s a way to do it without the side effect of job losses, lower GDP and more costly energy.  In fact, opening new drilling opportunities has great potential to greatly benefit our economy and our country.

Senator Alan Olson represents Senate District 23, which includes parts of Yellowstone and Musselshell Counties.  He is the chair of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee.

Can America Really be the Planet’s Top Energy Producer?

Chris Faulkner Photo courtesy Breitling Oil & Gas

CEO of Breitling Oil & Gas asks…

By Chris Faulkner
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 2:41 PM CST

For decades, Americans have lamented their dependence on foreign energy, especially Middle East oil. Now, however, the tables are turning. Growing numbers of analysts are concluding that within a decade, America could become the world’s top energy producer.

That would certainly be desirable. Substantial expansion of domestic energy would generate tens of thousands of jobs, lower everyday energy expenses, and eliminate our dependence on unstable Middle East governments.

But that future is far from guaranteed. We have the entrepreneurship and technological innovation we need. The question is whether we’ll have the smart public policies that allow them to flourish. While America’s energy prospects have never been brighter, regulators have never been more vehement in their push for restrictive controls on development of new projects.

Of course, we must protect the environment and ensure worker safety. But lawmakers have gone well beyond that, and they need to scale back the needless and costly rules if we are to have any hope of reaching our full potential.

There are three obvious places to start with reform.

First, regulators need to ease restrictions on hydraulic fracturing.

“Fracking” uses water pressure to extract oil and natural gas from shale formations buried deep under the earth’s crust. This technique is already in widespread use in the Bakken Shale in North Dakota. The energy boom in that state has led to astonishing economic growth and three percent unemployment.

The massive shale deposits in America could, if fully developed, profoundly change our energy landscape. But so far, oppressive state and federal rules have prevented firms realizing this potential.

Most of the environmental concerns over fracking, which turn on possible groundwater contamination, are based on misinformation or a misunderstanding of the process. This technique has been around since the 1940s. Over 1.2 million wells have been successfully fracked. The shale formations disrupted by the process are separated from water aquifers by up to two miles of rock, limestone, sand and earth. And over 99 percent of the standard fracking liquid mixture is simply water.

In other words, fracking presents very little environmental risk — and massive potential for economic gains. By some estimates, natural gas development in the Marcellus alone would create over 100,000 new jobs.

The second major way federal regulators can promote American energy is to open up off-shore energy reserves for drilling. After the tragic Deepwater Horizon spill, the Interior Department instituted a rigid drilling moratorium that effectively halted offshore development. Eventually, the courts forced regulators to ease the ban, but there is still a great deal of uncertainty and delay surrounding the offshore permit process.

Since the moratorium was announced, eleven major ocean drilling operations have closed shop, destroying an estimated 91,000 jobs.

The Deepwater disaster certainly justifies targeted safety standards for offshore drilling. But the status quo is overkill — imagine if federal aviation officials grounded all flights forever after a single crash.

Finally, the Obama administration needs to grant full approval for the construction of Keystone XL — a planned $7 billion, 2,000-mile pipeline that would carry oil from Canadian shales to refineries in Texas.

Extensive environmental analysis by the State Department and others shows Keystone will have minimal adverse effects on surrounding areas. The Constructing and maintaining the pipeline will create 130,000 new jobs.

It is indeed possible for the United States to become the world’s premier energy producer by 2020. But reaching that goal requires policymakers to identify and eliminate regulatory barriers that are now keeping America from achieving its astounding energy potential.

Chris Faulkner is the CEO of Breitling Oil & Gas.

Land Grab on the Eastern Slope of the Rockies

The Front Line

by Jim Anderson
In recent weeks the Rocky Mountain Front is making news because of a possible oil boom.  This has caused quite a stir.  People for and against oil are holding meetings either promoting the benefits of an oil economy or are attempting to convince the public that the drinking water will catch on fire if drilling occurs.  Meanwhile, quietly behind the scenes over 18,000 acres of public lands are about to become the private playground for David Letterman.

West of Choteau, located between the Teton and Sun Rivers is the Deep Creek Ranch owned by the late night talk show host.  Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat, is presenting legislation in Congress this week which if passed will create thousands of new wilderness acres along the Front.  Part of this acreage is called the Deep Creek addition.  Nowhere along the Front does this proposed new wilderness come down and touch private land except where the Deep Creek addition borders up to the Deep Creek Ranch.  A map showing the Deep Creek addition can be found on the Senators web site.

At one time sportsmen and recreationists had access to this area via County Road 380.  Unfortunately, a local rancher illegally shut the road off in 1988.  The legislature had passed a law requiring ranchers to allow hunting on leased state land if it bordered a public access such as a county road.  The rancher instead of allowing the public the right of entry to several sections of state land connecting to BLM, National Forrest, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, blocked the road.  Eventually, the rancher sold part of his ranch to Letterman and then gave him an easement to our county road.  Today, at the end of county road 380 is a horse barn built by the Deep Creek ranch which is so large it can easily be seen on Google Earth.

The Teton County commissioners have failed the people by not declaring the road open.  In 1988 they should have immediately taken action.  Instead, because the rancher allowed access to several local people it didn’t become an issue until Letterman purchased his Deep Creek Ranch.  It really came to a head when the Heritage Act, written in large part by the Wilderness Association and the Wildlife Federation, revealed their plan.  They encouraged hunters and sportsmen to support their proposed legislation saying they were saving the land for future generations, taking care of weeds, and creating more wilderness for everyone to enjoy.

With the arrival of several new out of state owners along the Front also wanting further road closures, angry outdoorsmen have organized and are insisting for access on these roads.  One landowner removed a bridge on the Boadle road and has refused the courts instructions to put it back and open the road.  The Public Land and Water Access group has filed suit regarding this road.  It looks like a lawsuit will take place over County Road 380 also.

It would only make sense that the Heritage Act folks would want County Road 380 to remain open so the public could enjoy those new acres of proposed wilderness.  However, the main architects of the Heritage Act want that road kept closed.  This has aroused suspicion with many along the Front.  Who benefits if sportsmen and recreationists are not allowed to access this area?  Obviously, only David Letterman and his private guests.  When pressed about the dollar amount Letterman has contributed to the Heritage Act project, no one seems to know or is willing to admit.  Once the Deep Creek addition borders the Deep Creek ranch, in my opinion, it will quadruple the value of the ranch property.  For anyone other than a private guest of Letterman access to the Deep Creek addition, will require a horseback ride or hike in from the Teton or Sun Rivers.  Either access will be more than ten miles through rough mountain terrain.

Senator Baucus was asked about these concerns.  He responded that he is always in favor of helping sportsmen gain access.  He either doesn’t understand about an obvious land grab or he is providing a large donor with their own private wilderness.  These types of policies have been prevalent throughout the current administration in Washington.  Political analysts are predicting that conservatives could pick up as many as ten more seats in the Senate this fall.  I would think the Senator would be more in tune with sportsmen and recreationists who also vote.

Jim Anderson, is a Montana Native, Choteau businessman, and resident of the Rocky Mountain Front

HICKS: ‘Frack Nation’ Digs Up The Not-So-Scary Truth

By Marybeth Hicks


When it comes to 21st-century environmental and energy debates, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Especially when what little knowledge you may have is incorrect. And most especially when it could be a lie.

That’s the conclusion of documentary filmmakers Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, who are on a quest to shed some light – and truth – on the subject of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. They are producing a feature-length film called “Frack Nation” that looks at the process of fracking in an effort to combat the “scaremongering” surrounding this safe and useful method of energy production.

If all you have is a little knowledge about fracking, you may believe this method of extracting natural gas from the ground causes environmental and health risks, and therefore should be banned. In fact, you would be unlikely to come to any other conclusion since 2010 when the movie “Gasland” was released, in which producer Josh Fox portrayed fracking as an evil and dangerous practice.

But like much of the environmentalist propaganda that passes for hard science, it turns out Fox’s conclusions about the dangers and impact of fracking are misleading. McElhinney says “Gasland” was misrepresentative, and plans to investigate the health claims surrounding the process to reveal the startling lack of scientific evidence to substantiate them.

“Frack Nation” also will tell the human story of hope and opportunity for people in hard-hit regions of the nation whose lives can be transformed by the ability to use fracking to produce natural gas. Areas such as upstate New York, western Pennsylvania and North Dakota could be promising sources of natural gas if landowners can use fracking to tap reserves deep under the ground.

“It is incredibly important that we tell this story and we tell this story right,” Ms. McElhinney said. “It is disheartening to meet people in upstate New York – farmers who are not able to hang on to the family farm – because of elites who want to take away an extraordinary opportunity for people living in counties where the average salary is less than $20,000 per year. How dare they?”

Because of “Gasland” and the hype about the supposed dangers of fracking, Ms. McElhinney said, state and local environmental policies are hindering landowners’ abilities to tap the energy resources under their properties, eliminating the economic benefits for individuals and families and impeding domestic energy growth.

The filmmakers of “Frack Nation” say the issue isn’t about just energy or the environment, but about personal freedom.

“America is the only nation on the face of the planet where if you own land, you own the mineral rights underneath your land,” she said. “No other country allows this. This is important, and we have to be willing to fight for it.”

To finance the film and involve everyday citizens in the fight to promote the right to engage in fracking, Ms. McElhinney and Mr. McAleer launched a “crowdfunding” effort at FrackNation.com to collect contributions of as little as $1 from individuals who will be named as executive producers of the film. After nine days, they raised more than $50,000 of their $150,000 goal, with more than 600 donors.

“When they learn about the injustice of the environmental propaganda that’s out there, people think there’s nothing they can do,” Ms. McElhinney said. “The enviros are going to frame the debate and declare that the science is settled. But it’s not settled and there is something you can do. You can help us to tell the truth.

“Some people say, ‘There’s all kinds of truth.’ That’s wrong. There’s all kinds of opinion. There isn’t all kinds of truth. There’s just the truth.”

Marybeth Hicks is the author of “Don’t Let the Kids Drink the Kool-Aid: Confronting the Left’s Assault on Our Families, Faith and Freedom.” Find her on the Web at http://marybethhicks.com. This article originally appeared in The Washington Times, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/feb/14/hicks-frack-nation-digs-up-the-not-so-scary-truth/.  ©The Washington Times. Reprinted with permission.

Kudos To The Fairfield Science Honors Students, Mr. Hahn, Lisa Flowers, The Boone And Crockett Club, Fairways Exploration & Production, LLC and Capstar Drilling

SEARCHING FOR THE FACTS – Above, three Honors Science Students and Lisa Flowers, Education Coordinator for the Boone and Crockett Club’s Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch walk to the next sample area on the ranch recently. Sun Times photo by Darryl L. Flowers
By Darryl L. Flowers
Sun Times Publisher

Folks in the oil and gas industry have been beaten about the head and shoulder so much that they are forced to hang their head, and when asked what they do for a living, they whisper “I work on an oil rig.”

Thus, I would not be the type of person the oil folks want working on a rig or on a seismic crew.  I would hold my head high, and proudly proclaim that I’m an “oil man!”

It could be worse, I could be a newspaper publisher.

For years, the media, the multi-billion dollar “green” industry, and political dupes have had their say in what should be an educated discussion of how we explore for energy in this nation.

Day after day, we hear reports about abuse, fraud, political corruption and dismal failure in the forced march toward green energy.

Innovation can not be forced.  It can not be legislated.

There will come a time when we will be able to wean ourselves from hydrocarbon fuel.  It will not happen in my lifetime, and to criminalize those who risk capital, provide employment, and work in this industry is wrong, and foolish.

In an economy that provides little hope, there is one exception, the energy industry.  In Choteau, and other parts of the state, people working to find oil and gas are shopping in our stores and eating in our restaurants.  And they are paying taxes.  Lots of taxes.  And as the wells begin to produce, our schools will see even more tax money, as will our counties, state and nation.

The best way for workers in the oil patch to counter the misrepresentations (to put it politely) of the media, greens and politicians is education.  And schools, colleges and universities around the nation need to drop their political agendas and do something new… educate.

If the industry and educators want to see how that’s done, come to Fairfield and visit with Mr. Hahn and his students.  Be prepared to put down your laptop and go “boots on the ground” in search of the truth (media types will have to “google” that word).

Mr. Hahn brings a unique perspective to his class.  You see, Raimund Hahn spent time with his sleeves rolled up, working on an oil rig years ago.  In 1979, Mr. Hahn started at the bottom, as a mudlogger, taking samples of the muck as it emerged from the drill hole.

But Mr. Hahn rarely mentions that. When we toured the rig he let the workers tell their story.  And when asked what he expects from the experiments the students are conducting, he replied, “We will see where the facts take us.”

And the “facts” are hard to come by.

Well, let me clarify that.  The facts come easy from the people I’ve met working in the oil industry.  Every question I’ve asked has been answered, and when you’re standing at the rig and see with your own eyes what’s going on, it’s hard for folks to feed you a line of BS.

Recently, I’ve spent some time researching just how open the oil companies are, compared to the anti-oil and business green industry.

To research this, I requested financial information from random oil companies and nonprofit green organizations.  Would you be surprised to find out the oil companies responded without hesitation or question?

But when I asked one of the state’s leading “wilderness” organizations for their IRS filings, they wanted to know why.  I’m still waiting for their reports, which, under IRS rules, should be made available to the public.

But the media and the politicians do not want to see “where the facts take us.”

We are told that conservation and energy exploration are like water and oil, that they can not mix.  But Boone and Crockett Club and Lisa Flowers are proving that is not the case.

The Boone and Crockett Club, for over a century, has been supporting the nation’s conservation system.  The Club, headquartered in Missoula, purchased the Theodore Roosevelt Ranch in 1986.  The TRMR adjoins the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Blackleaf Wildlife Management Area along the front.  Through the Club’s Elmer S. Rasmunson Wildlife Conservation Center at the Ranch, the organization provides courses, workshops, presentations and demonstrations for natural resources education and management.

Only a conservation organization with over a century of history understands the momentary distraction that an oil rig causes on the planet. The organization is to be lauded for their common sense approach.  Now, to be clear, the Club does not own the oil under their land. That belongs to Fairways Exploration & Production, LLC.  Fairways and their partners in this project have taken an extraordinary step to educate the public about the process of finding and extracting our abundant energy sources.

The Boone and Crockett Club is acting as a responsible landowner and is working to make the best of the situation.  I am confident that if the club does derive any benefit from the project, it will be spent wisely to further their endeavours in education and conservation.  Talk about a win-win!

Soon, hopefully, the rig will be replaced with a small oil well (much smaller than a wind turbine which makes more noise and kills more birds).  Once the rig is removed, the area will be restored.  The crew housing will be removed. The gravel pad will be hauled off.  The workers will move on.  And for a few decades… less than the blink of an eye in the life of the planet… the well will be a force to drive our economy.  And once the well has played out, it will be removed, the hole covered, and the only remnant will be a required marker showing the well location and depth.  And in a couple of years all signs of the well will disappear.

If the media spent less time flying over the front with the green industry and more time on the front, maybe they would be reporting this story, too.

So, thanks to Mike and the folks out on the rig.  The students enjoyed the tour, as did their teacher and one newspaper publisher that had rather be back on that rig than sitting at a computer banging out this column.

I for one, am anxious to find out the results of an Honors Science Class project conducted by some very smart Fairfield students, a dedicated Fairfield teacher, and Ms. Flowers with the TRMR.

With kids like these running things in a few years, the world will be in fine hands.

And if you run into an “oil man,” shake his hand.

For more information on the Boone and Crockett Club, the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch, or the  Elmer S. Rasmunson Wildlife Conservation Center, please go to www.boone-crockett.org.