Agreement ensures no CBM drilling on pass

Agreement ensures no CBM drilling on pass

The signing of a legal settlement ensures no drilling for coal-bed methane will take place on Bozeman Pass.

The settlement with J.M. Huber Corp. resolves three lawsuits brought by the company after it was denied permission to drill a CBM test well in the area.

The dispute came to a quiet end this week with signing of the agreement.

“We’ll file it and we’ll ask for dismissal of the cases,” Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert told county commissioners shortly before they gave the agreement their thumbs up.

Huber announced in 2001 its intentions to drill for coalbed methane after the company leased the mineral rights under 18,000 acres of land centered around Bozeman Pass.

The proposal met stiff resistance from landowners who feared CBM development would drive down property values and harm water supplies.

Huber sued the county in 2002 after the Planning and Zoning Commission, a seven-member board that includes all three county commissioners, denied a conditional-use permit allowing the company to drill a test well in the Bridger Canyon Zoning District.

Two more lawsuits followed. In the meantime, the Gallatin County Commission initiated emergency zoning to prevent CBM from drilling on the then-unzoned Bozeman Pass.

Landowners on the pass have since established their own zoning district that restricts any drilling and mining there. Huber also has given up its leases.

Lambert said it was “with great relief” that he was able to present the settlement to commissioners Wednesday, with the dispute now five years old.

The commission had twice delayed taking any action on the settlement in recent weeks because one of the parties — the Green Mountain Grazing Association, which had joined with Huber in suing the county — hadn’t reviewed it until recently.

All the parties in the lawsuits agreed to resolve their differences and pay their own attorney and court costs. The county won’t owe Huber any money.

The settlement itself doesn’t prohibit CBM development, but by agreeing to it, Huber has given up its effort to pursue drilling the pass.

Commissioner John Vincent said the agreement shows that local people can take on a well-funded corporation and still come out on top.

“You can stand up and fight and win,” he said.

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