Thursday, May 22, 2014
Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer, and for much of the country that means warm weather, beaches, or barbecues. On one Montana highway, the holiday weekend means it's time to clear the 26-foot snow drifts.
Monday, October 28, 2013
(Billings, Montana -- Yellowstone Public Radio) Growth in Montana’s oil and gas, agriculture, and coal sectors has spurred Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway to open a new economic development office in Billings, Montana.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Since its inception, American Prairie Reserve has raised $60 million from well-known, ultra-rich donors in an effort to create a national park in Montana that would be about the size of the state of Connecticut, exceeding Yellowstone by a million acres. Pete Geddes is one of the managing directors of the American Prairie Reserve. He joins The Takeaway to discuss the group's efforts and how this privately-backed nature sanctuary would function.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
(Helena, MT – YPR) – The Montana Senate Natural Resources Committee plans to vote Friday on a bill that would exempt oversize loads from having to undergo a review under the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA).
House Bill 513’s sponsor is Representative Bill McChesney (D-Miles City). He says the measure makes it crystal clear that the Montana Legislature “never intended for routine permits for oversize loads be forced to undergo the same scrutiny for environmental impacts that a new highway, a new coal mine or an oil refinery would be subjected to.”
The issue reached a flashpoint about two years ago when protesters sued to block several megaloads. At that time ImperialOil/ExxonMobil wanted to move oversize loads of equipment bound for the Oil Tar Sand fields in Alberta, Canada. Protesters also tried to stop oversize loads of coker drums traveling through Missoula to Billings.
“Prior to this particular incident in Missoula, the Montana Department of Transportation permitting process was always clearly designed and implemented to ensure the public notice and public safety were given substantial consideration without needless requirements or restrictions on the permitees,” says McChesney.
In order to haul an oversize load through Montana, companies need to obtain a 32-J permit. The current application contains an environmental checklist.
Opponents of HB 513 say because these megaloads could pose a threat to public safety, the environment, and cultural resources, a MEPA review may be appropriate. They add these projects should be subject to the MEPA process that expand the public’s right to know and the right of the public to participate in government decisions on such matters.
“If HB 513 passes, these monstrous, three-story, 200-foot long and 500,000-600,000 pound, made in Korea (loads) will be exempt from review for public safety, local highway infrastructure, cultural resources, the economy, and the environment,” says Montana Sierra Club's Claudia Narcisco.
Not true, says McChesney, a retired MDT employee who worked with oversize loads and the 32-J permits. He says before such permits are issued, MDT reviews the route, load size, and that public input is always welcome. He argues a MEPA review for the 32-J permit is redundant. “There’s no justifiable reason for this superfluous barrier to the commerce and the accompanying perception that Montana is a difficult place to do business.”
HB 513 was sent to the Montana Senate on a 72-26 vote.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
(Helena, MT-YPR) – There's no relief in sight to remedy the long waits for prospective semi truck drivers to get their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
Montana legislators, for now, are not funding a request by the Montana Motor Vehicle Department to retain four full-time equivalent (FTE) CDL examiners. The inaction comes despite acknowledgement by members of the Montana House Appropriations Committee that there’s up to a 60 day waiting period to take the CDL exam.
“I find it unacceptable that we got a 60-day waiting list to put people to work so they can start paying their taxes,” says House Appropriations Chairman Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip). He adds this is not the fault of the MVD.
The reason for the shortage of semi-drivers is multifaceted, but it is exacerbated by the boom in the Bakken oil field in Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota. That has led to more people seeking training to drive the big rigs and the need for a CDL.
Ankney asks if the local community colleges can offer that training and testing.
MVD Administrator Brenda Nordlund says current state law prohibit third-party testing. “That happens in other states, but there are some risks,” she says. “Fraud, particularly when there is a large demand and scarcity of resource.”
Currently MVD has five people, some part-time, temporarily spread across Montana to conduct CDL exams. The money for those positions runs out June 30, 2013.
Initially the House Appropriations Committee tried to fund those positions with money from a consumer protection account. A legal opinion advised them against that action.
The Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee passed the state’s main budget bill without funding the temporary CDL positions. The bill can still be amended on the House Floor or in the state Senate.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
(Helena, MT – YPR) – Montana lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a bill that would increase the distance motorists have to give a school bus when children are getting on and off.
House Bill 155 would amend current Montana law to increase the distance a motor vehicle has to stop from 15 to 30 feet when a school bus puts on its red flashing light.
Representative David “Doc” Moore (R-Missoula) is the bill’s sponsor.
The freshman lawmaker brought toy school buses and handed them out to many state representatives in the 100-member house to try to persuade his colleagues to vote for his first bill.
Moore said the bill is about safety. “In 2011, nationwide there were 100 fatalities or injuries of school children in school safety zones,” he said. “Sixteen of these fatalities happened when children were getting on or off their buses.”
But not everyone was on board. Representative Jerry O’Neil (R-Columbia Falls) questioned whether the bill was necessary. He asked: where are the statistics that changing Montana law will save a child’s life?
“I think we’re better off to leave it the way it is. It isn’t causing any problems the way it is. I think we’re better off to just vote ‘no’ on this,” he said.
But HB 155 passed the Montana House on an 83-17 vote. It faces a final vote in the House. If it passes, it will go to the Montana Senate for consideration.
Monday, October 29, 2012
To find out just how the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has transformed political races in America, Frontline teamed up with Marketplace to look at the role of campaign finance in the race for one hotly contested Montana Senate seat. Kai Ryssdal, host of Marketplace, explains what he discovered while working on the documentary.
Thursday, September 06, 2012
(Billings, MT – YPR) – Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) officials say the railroad is keeping pace with the rapid growth caused by the Bakken Formation, the largest oil field in the lower 48 states.
The lack of pipeline capacity has led oil producers to turn to rail and semi trucks to bring crude from fields in western North Dakota and eastern Montana to market.
BNSF recently announced it has increased capacity to haul one million barrels of crude per day out of the region, known as the Williston Basin.
“Yeah, it’s fun isn’t it,” says Denis Smith, BNSF Vice President of Marketing of Industrial Products. "Three years ago there was one facility that could load a crude petroleum train up there. Now we’re going to have 10 by the end of the year and a dozen by next year. " These terminals load oil onto 100 car trains.
He says customers have spent about $1 billion on these loading facilities, rail cars, and other infrastructure. In turn, Smith says the railroad has had to make sure it had the capacity to move those trains to market.
“It’s about a dozen trains,” Smith says. “And it is impressive, but if you put it in light of something like our coal business where we haul 50-plus trains a day, we’re capable of doing it.”
According to a BNSF press release, the railroad’s network reaches all major coastal and inland markets and directly serves 30 percent of US refineries in 14 states through direct and interline service. The company has 1,000 miles of rail line in the Williston Basin area, serving eight originating terminals. BNSF also connects to 16 of the top 19 oil producing counties in central and western North Dakota and five of the six oil producing counties in eastern Montana.
The railroad recently announced it spent $197 million on projects in North Dakota and Montana. The company also hired more than 560 new employees across its service area.
Smith anticipates BNSF will continue to be a key transporter of Bakken/Williston Basin crude even if the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is constructed from Canada to the US Gulf Coast. The pipeline is primarily to transport Canadian tar sands crude to the US for refining, but on-ramps are planned in Montana to also transport Bakken crude.
“We go to the Texas/Louisiana gulf but some of the other markets are better markets for producers up there [ND/MT],” Smith says. As an example, he says rail can deliver crude directly to markets in Philadelphia, Chicago, Florida, and the Pacific Northwest. “That’s the beauty and the surprise I think to the producers,” he says. “The reach that we have in terms of getting them to markets that give them the best buck for their oil.”
Thursday, August 16, 2012
(Billings, Montana – YPR) – MontanaFair, the region’s largest fair, celebrates the state’s agricultural tradition with people competing to win the purple Best of Show ribbon for wool, pigs, and apple pie. But this year, MontanaFair is also celebrating the importance of the region’s energy industry – oil, gas and coal.
Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota are home to one of the country’s most active oil fields, the Bakken.
The energy exhibits are being held in a building between the mechanical bull ride and the Montana State University Extension Service agricultural and garden demonstration plots.
Event organizer Dana Pulis says Energy Day wants to celebrate Montana’s agricultural heritage and recognize another key industry. “We’re doing business with some of the biggest corporations in energy development while we’re wearing jeans, while we’re in a 100-year-old barn, and while we’re enjoying ice cream and hot apple pie.” Pulis says.
Several companies brought working oil field equipment for public display. Alan Olson of Sanjel Corporation brought what’s known as “the blender.” This 73-foot long truck mixes the hydraulic fracturing – or fracking - fluid and sand. Olson says once MontanaFair is over, this unit is headed for Texas.
A horsepower unit injects the fluid into the wells.
Texas license plates are common in Billings because of the Bakken oil boom. When Olson is asked if Montana is the new Texas: "When you go down and look at our operations in Texas, all of our equipment down there has Montana license plates," he says. "So Texas is the new Montana."
This oil field services truck by Cliffhanger, LLC heats up water. “This is a spectacular piece of equipment, says Olson. “We’ve got to heat up water in the wintertime. You can’t frack or cement with ice cubes.”
Sanjel and Nabors Well Services, the world’s largest on-shore drilling company, are among those also looking at fairgoers as potential employees.
“We’re looking for truck drivers,” says Russ Burch of Billings. The human resources district manager oversees hiring for Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. “I need to hire about 40 of them [truck drivers] to work rotations for us in North Dakota.”
The catch, he says, is they need to be experienced in winter driving -- and willing to put on chains in below-zero temperatures with strong winds.
Thursday, July 12, 2012
(Glendive, MT – YPR) – A company that provides drilling fluids for the oil industry says transportation is the reason why it chose to locate its Bakken Oil operations in a small Eastern Montana community.
“We depend so much on trucking,” says Joe Bowen, area manager of The Mud Master’s Group. “That’s the only reason why we’re not in Billings.” He says four to five semi trucks a day, loaded with Mud Master products, leaves the Glendive facility daily for the Bakken oil fields.
Mud Masters provides drilling mud and other products. The company has facilities in Texas, Louisiana Oklahome, West Virginia, and now Montana. The Bakken oil fields in Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota is the secondlargest oil play in the U.S.
Bowen says he had to convince his bosses to locate a facility in Glendive over Billings. According to the 2010 census, the population of the city of Glendive is 4,935 people, while the population of the city of Billings (the state’s largest city) is 104,180 people.
“I considered Billings hard,” says Bowen who still has a home in Billings, as well as in Glendive. “I lived in Billings when Mud Masters wanted to expand into North Dakota. I wouldn’t live in North Dakota. I’m from Montana. I live in Montana.”
“I’m just as close in Glendive to every drilling rig in the Bakken as a business in Williston, North Dakota is,” he says.
To illustrate his point, Bowen draws an equilateral triangle on the chalkboard in his Glendive office. At each point, he writes: Glendive, Williston, and Dickinson; on each line he writes 98 miles. By contrast, Billings is another 220 miles to the West of Glendive or at least 3 ½ hours of driving time on I-94.
“By the time a truck leaves Billings and comes to the Bakken and delivers, before the driver can get home he runs out of time,” Bowen says. The distance from Billings to Williston is about 320 miles or just over 5 hours via I-94. Then there’s additional time and distance to the drilling rigs that dot the oil fields.
Bowen says Billings has the infrastructure, housing, shopping and other amenities that the smaller communities of Glendive and other Eastern Montana communities don’t. “But we depend so much on trucking,” he says. “That’s the only reason we’re not in Billings.”
Bowen says Billings remains vital to his company, however, because of its airport. The Glendive office has eight full-time employees who live in the area, he says. The remaining 10 rotate in and out from Texas, Louisiana, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. All will fly into Billings and either drive or board Silver Airways (provided by Gulfstream International Airlines), the Essential Air Service provider to rural Montana.
Monday, June 25, 2012
In fewer than 200 words on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Montana's 100-year-old prohibition on corporate spending in elections, setting the stage for renewed efforts to overturn Citizens United that don't involve the nation's highest court.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
(Red Lodge, MT - YPR) – Snow, blowing snow, and icy road conditions kept most of the scenic Beartooth Pass closed over the Memorial Day weekend. The high-elevation highway skirts the Montana-Wyoming border and leads to the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The highest point along this All-American Road is at the West Summit/Beartooth Pass Overlook at 10,947 feet.
Montana highway crews clear snow from the road just south of Red Lodge to the Wyoming-border. National Park Service Crews take over from there into Yellowstone Park. Crews had the road cleared for the traditional start to the summer tourist season, but a late spring snow storm delayed the opening to motorized vehicles.
Winter conditions meant the crews could keep the road open only to the Rock Creek Vista Point rest area. Later, however, crews closed the road because of icy road conditions.
Friday, May 25, 2012
(Billings, MT – YPR) – The Memorial Day weekend marks the opening of one of Montana’s most scenic mountain highways and the gateway to the Northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. But that opening was delayed Friday as Beartooth Pass was closed due to snow and ice.
Montana Department of Transportation and National Park Service crews have been clearing away snow from the Beartooth Highway, a 68-mile road that winds through three National Forests across the Beartooth Mountain range. At its highest elevation, the road climbs to 10,947 feet.
Yellowstone National Park is open for the summer season, but park officials warn visitors some roads may be closed due to weather or road construction.
For more pictures of the Beartooth Highway, check out flickr.
Wednesday, May 09, 2012
For Senator Max Baucus, the transportation bill's benefits to his home state boil down to this: jobs.
The bipartisan conference committee charged with finding a federal transportation bill compromise between the Senate and the House versions held its first official meeting yesterday.
“Construction season has started,” Baucus says. “14,000 Montana jobs and 1.6 million jobs across America depend on this highway bill.”
He says the Senate reauthorization bill doesn’t add to the federal deficit, keeps the Highway Trust Fund Solvent, and institutes reforms.
Baucus also chairs the Senate Environment and Public Work’s (EPW) Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) is the ranking Republican on EPW. He says as one of the most conservative members of Congress he’s a supporter of investing in infrastructure.
“On issues like national security and infrastructure I’m a big spender,” he says. “That’s what I think we’re supposed to be doing here.”
Inhofe says simply passing extensions of the current legislation throws away money that would otherwise pay for infrastructure projects.
The Republican controlled U-S House passed the most recent extension. One of the sticking points has been over the issue of the Keystone XL pipeline project that would transport oil from Canada’s tar sand fields to refineries along the U-S Gulf coast. It would also transport oil from the Bakken Oil fields in Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota.
Senator John Hoven, R-ND, says support for the Keystone XL has been bipartisan. He adds without the pipeline, oil producers are relying instead on 500 semis a day to transport Bakken crude.
“And we want to send 100,000 barrels of oil to market,” he says. He says those 500 trucks a day are destroying roads, “and creating a real safety issue for our people.”
“My hope is the House Republicans will not hold the entire country’s transportation infrastructure hostage over these extraneous provisions,” Waxman says. “Let’s not jeopardize this opportunity to create jobs with ill conceived, anti-environmental amendments.”
There are 47 members on the bipartisan Surface Transportation Conference Committee. Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA, is the chair. U-S Representative John Mica, R-FL, is the vice chair.
The current extension expires June 30, 2012.
Friday, April 06, 2012
(Culbertson, MT – YPR) – The mayor of Culbertson Gordon Oelkers says one of the biggest complaints he hears from residents in this northeastern Montana town is how the semis going to and from one of the biggest oil plays in the U-S is tearing up the roads.
U-S Senator Max Baucus met with the town’s residents to hear their concerns and discuss possible solutions.
“Oh my,” said Baucus as a woman handed him a picture of her broken china cabinet.
“That was a glass shelf,” she said as Baucus looked at the pile of broken dishes. “And we’re right on the highway. I’m constantly going in and pushing the dishes back on the shelf so they (the dishes) don’t fall. Yesterday it (the glass shelf) just cracked.”
The town of 700 people was once part of the out-migration taking place in Eastern Montana. Now the town is suffering from growing pains because of the oil boom in the Williston Basin, specifically the Bakken. The Montana Department of Transportation is currently studying traffic on the roads. The community is asking Baucus for help with funding once the study is completed.
The Democrat chairs the Senate subcommittee charged with overseeing the federal transportation bill. The Senate recently passed a reauthorization bill, but it stalled in the House.
“It’s getting a little high-centered,” said Baucus. “But it’s going to have to break loose. I just urge you, and me, to try to figure out how to modify that legislation to address this part of the country.”
He said the problem is Congress is moving away from earmarks, a specific road, for example. But maybe money can be designated for a region. Texas roads are also being damaged by an oil boom.
“I hate to tell you this but there are a lot of people back there who feel there should not be a federal highway program. Rather that each state should take care of its own road needs, period,” Baucus said. “And that’s gaining a little bit of a head of steam, frankly. It’s nuts. It makes no sense. We wouldn’t have any highway program if that’s the case.”
Thursday, March 22, 2012
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Billings is just over 104,000 people and is the largest city in Montana.
Monday, March 19, 2012
(Billings, MT - YPR) – The State of Montana is adding more commercial drivers license (CDL) examiners to meet the demand for semi-truck drivers to serve what’s becoming the largest oil play in the U.S. The Bakken oil field is located in Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota.
“The oil boom is providing Montanans an opportunity for good paying jobs,” says State Attorney General Steve Bullock in a press release. “I wanted to make sure limited staffing in the Motor Vehicle Division wasn’t holding companies back from hiring Montanans.”
Bullock says the MVD will hire four new people: three CDL examiners and one customer service clerk. Gas tax money will be used in the interim to fund those positions.
Statistics from the Montana MVD show there’s been a 23 percent increase in new CDLs issued since 2009 and a 44 percent increase in CDL renewals. Officials say while the demand for CDLs is statewide, a significant portion of that increase is from Eastern Montana.
“It’s a statewide problem intensified that much more by the Bakken,” says Bullock. “So we’re focusing on some additional resources in the Sidney-Glasgow-Glendive [area of Eastern Montana], but it’s also important that someone in Missoula can get their CDL that much quicker because they’re going to be working right there out of Missoula or they’re going to be going over to the Bakken.”
To help deal with the backlog of CDL skills exams in Eastern Montana, officials are adjusting staffing and schedules. Officials expect that will provide 18 more skills tests a month. Each exam takes at least two hours. In addition, Bullock says 5 existing employees will be upgraded to CDL examiners.