A Bullet Dodged

Well, we won the first round on this one.

Here’s the first couple of paragraphs from a Bismarck Tribune story, which was posted about 9 o’clock this morning on their website:

XTO pulls Elkhorn drilling plan

By LAUREN DONOVAN | Bismarck Tribune

            The company that staked oil wells near the boundary line of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s Elkhorn Ranch site has withdrawn its application.

            A late Thursday evening letter from XTO Energy’s lawyers notified the state Industrial Commission that it will withdraw an application to drill a two-section spacing unit that comes up to the edge of the historic site.

No corporation, especially an oil company, likes to get the kind of negative publicity they were getting on this one. So they punted.

I am truly amazed at the number of people who rose to the occasion and had a hand in stopping this. I’ve even got friends vacationing in Florida for the winter who sent an e-mail to the Governor protesting this scheme. And speaking of the Governor, there’s one boy who’s pretty relieved with XTO’s action. I’m actually going to give Jack Dalrymple some credit on this one. I don’t doubt for a minute he said something like this to one of his friends at XTO: “Sorry, but this is a tough one. I need some help here. Get me out of this. They’re even going to print stories about my stock ownership in Exxon Mobil. I’ve been good to you guys, and I will continue to be good to you guys, but you’ve got to let me off the hook on this one. It’ll look best for everyone if you just withdraw the application.”

And so they did. Last night. In an e-mail letter from their local counsel, Lawrence Bender. With a copy, it looks like, to Lauren Donavon at the Tribune. Not in time to stop her story about Jack Dalrymple’s stock ownership in Exxon Mobil in the paper this morning, which we reported here the other day a well.

Lillian and I drove out to the Elkhorn Wednesday. We drove on every road close to sections 5 and 6, where XTO holds the lease. Couldn’t find a good well site anywhere in those sections . . . until we drove down the hill into the Elkhorn and this wonderful big sagebrush flat opened up in front of us, and we said “Wow, this would be a wonderful place for an oil well. If we were working for XTO, and didn’t give a damn about keeping oil wells away from Theodore Roosevelt’s ranch, we’d suggest putting the well right here.”

We did see the stakes in the ground. It was chilling to see the one just a hundred feet from the fence. We spent an hour or so there, sitting and talking and listening to the wind, and then came home with a renewed resolve to not let this happen. I even told a couple of old friends of mine (older than me, which is really old) that this may be the place where we have to sit down in front of the bulldozer. Now, temporarily at least, we’ve got some breathing room.

According to Lauren Donavon’s story, XTO has about a year to come up with an alternative drilling site for the four wells they want to put there, or their lease will expire. So we’ll just have to watch the agendas for the next year or so to see if they submit another application. XTO has a lot of money tied up in this lease (at least by our standards—theirs are a little different) and they probably aren’t too keen on letting it go to waste.

Meanwhile, I hope the U.S. Forest Service, which leased the minerals under those two sections to XTO, and the Bureau of Land Management, which administers the lease, have learned something here too. If the lease does expire without XTO doing any drilling in 2014, the government should abandon it, and just not lease the minerals there.

We did look at another site about three miles west of the Elkhorn, where there’s an existing well site and another application for a new well right beside it. It’ll be a good landmark when it is done. How do you get to the Elkhorn Ranch? Oh, just go north on Bell Lake Road and take a right at that big new oil well on the left hand side of the road.

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One Response to A Bullet Dodged

  1. Michael Kane says:

    Good job Jim and Lillian, and all the others who put pressure on the Governor and the Commission and the oil company. Just don’t blink now they’ve faded a bit.

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