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Some Pondera County citizens concerned about proposed injection well plan

Posted at 5:44 PM, Jun 03, 2024

PONDERA COUNTY — Many Pondera County and Rocky Mountain Front residents are concerned over a proposed plan to classify wells in the area to Class V, which would allow wastewater from Montana Renewables to be injected thousands of feet below into the Madison Aquifer.

Montalban Oil & Gas are seeking permits from the Environmental Protection Agency, so Montana Renewables can inject their wastewater into the earth.

Montana Renewables creates sustainable aviation fuel. To do so they clean feedstocks, creating a by-product referred to as ‘agricultural wash water’. They’re working with Montalban Oil & Gas who are looking to receive permits from the EPA to give the wells Class V distinction. This would permit the injection of treated non-hazardous waste which may have been hazardous prior. Water is taken from the Missouri river.

Some critics have called the extraction of water from the Missouri River to be resource shedding, and damaging to the ecosystem. The water that is pulled goes into an aquifer and not back into the river.

“They need to put up a treatment plant. So at least the City of Great Falls can use that water with that amount of water being taken out of the river,” says David Waldner, a Hutterite living in a colony just a mile or so from one of the proposed injection sites.

Some individuals are calling on Montana Renewables to invest in a treatment plant, so the water can be put back into the river rather than wasted. The company are due to receive a $600 million loan. With he money, they plan to upscale production instead. Montana Renewables have said they plan to submit a discharge permit application to treat their wastewater at the city of Great Falls Water Treatment Plant.

Water planned to be injected has been characterized by Montana Renewables as non-hazardous. Some people are unsure. The Pondera County Sanitarian, Corrine Rose, says despite multiple requests for a sample of injection fluid, she has been repeatedly denied.

When I spoke with Chad Anderson of the Montana DEQ, he told me that Montana Renewables has the responsibility to send in fluid for sampling and testing. With their current Class II permits, they send their sample to Montana Board of Oil & Gas. If the Class V permits are granted, they will send a sample to the EPA. Because the permits haven’t been granted, they have no legal obligation to share their samples with anybody else. If the injection permit is granted, a sample can be shared with the public by way of petition.

Critics who believe Montana Renewables are ‘hiding something’ by withholding their sample say this is counter-intuitive because at this point the fluid would already be in the process of being injected.

I received a letter from the CEO of Montana Renewables Bruce Fleming, which was also sent to Pondera County Commissioners. In it, he outlined a response to some concerns, especially those regarding the contamination of drinking wells. The letter states that the Madison Aquifer (where wastewater will be injected) is not drinkable and that the aquifer does not contact surface water supplies based off geology and experience. It also states the permit they hope to receive would put a ‘cap’ on the maximum quantity of water allowed for injection. The proposed amount being a “tiny fraction of a percent in an enormous, non-potable, deep aquifer.”

The EPA are no longer holding public comment sessions, and many living along the Rocky Mountain Front believe the permits will be granted imminently.

“They're willing to do this because there's not many people there. Well, there's still people there that live in these areas of these two injection wells and those people, according to the Constitution of the state of Montana, have a right to dignity,” says another concerned Montanan, Nathan White.

“If you fool with Mother Nature, she's going to throw you a blow. And it's going to be a tough one,” that being the succinct opinion of David Waldner.