Shortly after Idaho local government and oil/gas associations agreed on a proposed state law to cover regulation of the state’s fledgling natural gas exploration and production (E&P) sector, a conservation group raised concerns about local authorities ceding their authority to the state.
Last weekend the Idaho Association of Counties and the Idaho Petroleum Council struck an agreement on the guidelines allowing counties some control over natural gas E&P operations, while gas producers will have a streamlined process for getting permits to tap potential production fields in the state, which has been known historically for its hydroelectric and coal energy resources.
“Local siting and operational issues are important to our members and to the people of Idaho,” said Dan Chadwick, executive director of the counties group, calling the proposal that will be submitted to the state lawmakers next month a “compromise” that ensures that the counties’ input will be part of a “growing gas industry” in the state.
The proposed legislation would require that the state notify local government when a company applies for an exploration permit in a particular county. Local government will then be able to regulate construction and operation of the processing stations, pipelines and other infrastructure required for exploration and delivery of gas. County rules could still prevent the infrastructure from being built.
“The agreement is an example of what happens when reasonable people have a chance to sit down and forge compromise,” said Suzanne Budge, executive director at the petroleum council.
However, the state Conservation League warned that the agreement appears to reduce local control over industries by allowing state lawmakers to create rules that counties and cities could not exceed. Conservation League head Justin Hayes told an Associated Press reporter that under the agreement it appears that the counties and cities would not be able to veto anything.
Recently a state lower house committee in the Idaho legislature approved a new set of rules for the oil/gas industry (see Shale Daily, Jan. 23). The House Resources and Conservation Committee voted 16-1 in favor of the new rules, which 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 ongoing — Rep. Dick Harwood (R-St. Maries), voted against the measure, alleging that the state was “overreaching” in the proposed rules.
Last year a rarely convened panel in Idaho adopted some temporary rules for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) (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.
Snake River Oil & Gas Co., which is exploring for gas in western Idaho, helped develop the compromise legislation after Washington County proposed an ordinance that would put in place strict size limits, large bond requirements and multi-million-dollar insurance policies, among other items.
Snake River CEO Richard Brown reiterated his company’s commitment to Idaho, contending that the agreement provides assurances to citizens and certain businesses that can serve as a model for other states to follow.
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