Based on the Missoula Independent Cover Story (Vol.25 No.8 Feb 20-27 2014):
The Damage Done by Kelly Conde
1970s, NE Montana, on the Fort Peck Reservation:
The cool springs of water off Road 75 still offered temptation,
Luring the townies with jars and jugs in preparation
They knock on the door… “You’re water’s so sweet,
Can we get a little please?
That cold natural flow is too much of a tease!”
In the 1950s the lands nearby fell under the scrutiny
Of three major oil and gas companies
Who tapped in with their drills and pumping machinery
To the depth of a 300,000 year old ocean creation.
The 1st encroach on the Bakkan formation
Has devastated today’s cool sweet water on the Indian Reservation.
It took 20 years, it happened slowly…
First it made the pipes rusty,
Staining the sinks and drains;
Then it colored all the white laundry.
Once the clean dishes remained oily,
Then it was time to drink bottled water only.
The smell of sulfur like rotten eggs wafts
From the bathtub, the bubbles aren’t enough to cover the stench.
The skin of the youth is too delicate;
When it began turning blue, then even the bath water they hauled in.
One concerned Lady, made early inquiries
She wondered at the change right as the faucets began rusting.
It took two decades for a community member to move into position to help.
She opened her ears to the strange tales being told of the water.
“My water is yellow, it smells awful and looks like pee.”
“My water is reddish and it’s staining everything!”
“My water, can you believe, it’s 0 degrees Fahrenheit and it still won’t freeze.”
“My water, it tastes salty; how can that be?
Seriously, check it out! It’s even fizzy!”
This lady took her brain muscle and personal grit to the USGS,
Where accumulated evidence was piling up higher than the depth of Butte’s Berkley Pit.
Add on 10 years for an in-depth investigation
10 plus the 20 it took for anyone to do anything
Plus the 20 it took for the contamination to begin coloring the plumbing
And that’s 50 long years of environmental, soil and water being tainted
Just at this stretch of prairie land in Montana.
40 square miles of land has been tarnished, it’s undisputed.
Somewhere between 9 and 60 billion gallons of drinking water polluted.
That’s enough water for the lifetime of every Montanan,
But no one’s counting the gallons the wildlife depend on.
Murphy Oil Corp. was the 1st to find the Bakkan oil;
In 3 years had built 35 wells.
Other companies came and together they claimed
The oil for their profits
So the future’s destruction lined their pockets.
From 1952 to ’55 there were no guidelines for the wastewater created.
Into unlined pits- directly onto the ground and unregulated,
Ancient hot water still slick with oil residues devastated.
Sadly, legislated regulations do not enforcement hone.
C.C. Thomas Oil Company was still dumping up to 42,000 gallons of waste water per day alone!
In 1961, at a public hearing, a company Rep. claimed “It’s not hurting anyone.”
Retired wells are forming more dire straits.
Just a ½ mile from Road 75 one sealed up just couldn’t wait
For the end of time to advance its impertinent fate.
The cement bonds loosened and underground pressure forced
Oil and tainted agua back up to seep into the shallow aquifer.
This well, close to the residents is monitored for its vicinity
The impact of its hot plume of oil-stained water has been, for its neighbors, devastating.
But there are numerous wells in the East Poplar fields that don’t get the same monitoring.
If only it was profitable to speculate how many of them are leaking.
14 families filed suit with a tribal attorney
A pipeline for WATER is what they were seeking.
Meanwhile an EPA toxicologist discovered Benzene
A definite carcinogen linked to over exposure
Now giving real cause to the high number of cancers found in the neighbors
The oil companies now had two strong contenders:
The People on Road 75 and the EPA wielding safe drinking water standards.
In 2002 this suit was finally settled.
The companies will build a pipeline connecting these residents to the water
In the township of Popla.r
They will also pay each family $60,000 in damages
And $5,000 to replace the pipes in their houses
They still sent bottled water as well, for 10 additional years
Or until they are certain their tap waters are clear.
5 years ago, in 2009
The Poplar Dialysis Center cried out with a sign
High levels of chloride were found, the mark of the ancient ocean’s brine.
The contamination had caught up with the town’s water too.
The EPA quickly charged the same 3 companies with responsibility.
Of course they appeal and deny any accountability.
And I’m sure you’re all wondering, how I’m going to end this long sad story.
The waters of NE Montana are diseased
The companies- Both oil and agricultural are free
From healing the waters for the lands and creatures in need.
They chipped in to pay for a rural treatment plant
That is cleaning the mud from the mighty Missouri.
They paid for the pipe that brings water to Poplar.
But they don’t have to suffer
From that pipeline breaking 20-30 times a year
For it was rushed into production without proper planning
Just like they rush into drilling, pumping and scamming,
As they put away special savings
To pay lawyers, when the time comes for evading.