A state lower house committee in the Idaho legislature last Tuesday approved a new set of rules for the oil/gas industry. The House Resources and Conservation Committee voted 16-1 in favor of the new rules that were hammered out with the industry and other stakeholders.

Despite widespread stakeholder support, including industry, environmentalists, local government and citizens in the two counties where leasing and drilling are already ongoing, a lone elected official, Rep. Dick Harwood, voted against the measure, alleging that the state was "overreaching" in the proposed new rules.

Last year a rarely convened panel in Idaho adopted some temporary rules for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for natural gas (see Shale Daily, April 21, 2011). The unanimous move by the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, consisting of Idaho's five statewide elected officials, including its governor, was prompted by natural gas drilling in a single county, Payette. The commission rejected an attempt to include a ban on the use of alleged cancer-causing chemicals.

Other state lawmakers supporting the proposed permanent new rules said "time was of the essence" to have something in place to allow a new oil/gas industry to take hold in Idaho, a state historically dominated by hydroelectric and coal-fired energy.

The proposed rules would include a 15-day public comment period before a drilling or well treatment permit can be issued. Idaho lawmakers referred to "well treatment" as "mini-fracking" because it involves pumping liquids down wells under high pressure to increase flows of oil and gas. As for fracking itself, the officials said they were not concerned because Idaho's potential gas deposits are not connected to shale.

Nevertheless, the proposed rules would allow fracking and many of the same fluids used in well treatments. Pits used to hold the liquids will be required to be lined to prevent leakage into ground water, and no pits are allowed in areas designated as protected for drinking water purposes. All of the wells need to be bonded up to $10,000/well as a means of protecting the state should an oil/gas operator go bankrupt and not be able to safely and permanently cap the wells involved.