KILLDEER MOUNTAINS — Loren Jepson paid an attorney and fought as hard as he could to keep oil wells from being built alongside his Killdeer Mountain ranch.
He lost, and now he says he’ll have another mess on his hands — this one caused by clay mud and silt running off the drill pad into his stock dam less than 50 yards downhill.
“I told the state (Industrial Commission) this would happen,” Jepson said Thursday, while he watched the slow spring melt carry a stream of mud into the water he uses for livestock and to water his yard and garden.
As he stood out on his private road that runs parallel to the construction of Hess Corp.’s multi-well pad, a contractor walked through the muddy ditch to talk about the situation.
The newest idea was to try to slow water on the other side of the pad to hopefully get the melt water to drop silt on that side, he told Jepson.
The same contractor installed several straw wattles and plastic sheet dams to try to tame the muddy water slide, but Jepson said the fix was too little, too late, partly because none of it made effective contact with the cold, thawing soil.
Construction on the massive pad started in February within a day or two of Jepson losing his appeal.
The wells are on the south end of a state school land section and Jepson’s case to the state Industrial Commission was to relocate them to the other end of the section, or farther.
The Killdeer Mountains area is historically and archaeologically important, though an archaeological survey prior to the pad being built didn’t turn up any artifacts, Jepson admitted.
No one from Hess returned phone calls or emails asking for comment. The contractor at the site was busy and the Tribune was unable to talk to him.
Hess’ attorney, John Morrison of Bismarck, said Hess installed erosion control and twice installed additional controls at Jepson’s request.
“Hess is not aware of any mud or silt migrating on Mr. Jepson’s property or into a stock dam,” Morrison said in a letter to Jepson’s attorney dated Thursday.
Jepson said he contacted the company and waited a week for them to show up, while the silt kept running.
“I tried to tell them I’ve got quite a grade coming through here. They can put down all the straw wattle they want to,” he said.
He said he knows in the whole scheme of development, his silted-in stock dam is a relatively small deal.
The water is important to him, but so is the principle of the matter.
“I’ve lived all my life here to build what we got and now to be encircled by wells and then to put up with their mud,” Jepson said. “I knew this mud was going to happen.”
Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources and the state’s primary oil regulator, said he would have an inspector look at the Jepson problem.
He said wells are exempt from certain federal stormwater rules, but under a state drilling permit companies are not allowed to contaminate surface or groundwater sources.
Soil can be a contaminant, Helms said.
Jepson said he enlarged his stock dam last summer because it was so dry and he wanted to catch and hold more water.
“I’m not a tree hugger,” he said. “Someone’s got to stand up to these people.”