The fledgling oil and gas industry emerging in parts of Idaho has raised a debate over proposed rules on drilling being considered at the city and county government level. Both sides are gearing up for a fight in the state legislature next year.

Local officials and environmental groups are concerned about groundwater protections, spawning ordinances like one in Washington County attempting to put limitations and expensive bonding requirements on exploration and production (E&P) companies. In response the Idaho Petroleum Council (IPC) and Snake River Oil & Gas, a unit of an Arkansas-based Weiser-Brown have indicated they will ask the state legislature to step in and make permanent current temporary rules governing oil and gas exploration.

Historically dependent on water and coal for energy, Idaho now has oil and gas taking on more interest as the state looks for more balance in its energy resources, including renewables, according to a recent opinion poll of the Pacific Northwest and the hopes of the fledgling industry as represented by IPC (see Daily GPI, Dec. 16). While shale and hydraulic fracturing are not involved to date, the IPC is weighing in regarding E&P stepping up in two counties — Payette and Washington.

Snake River Oil & Gas has reportedly leased 15,000 acres in the southwest section of the state where until recently a partnership between two Canadian companies, Bridge Resources and Paramax Resources Ltd., had been the state’s major gas industry player. Bridge has drilled 11 wells in Payette County, according to local news reports.

In November temporary rules were adopted by the state with the input of the industry, environmentalists and residents that are supposed to govern drilling, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), increase bonding requirements and set stricter groundwater protections. At that time one of the principal owners of Snake River Oil & Gas endorsed the statewide rules, according to news reports.

Industry representatives, however, are now fearful that additional rules could interfere with planned drilling operations in the two southwest counties. The proposed measure supported by the individual companies and IPC would attempt to prevent local measures from interfering with state-approved drilling projects.

All the interest and debate has been stirred up in less than two years. Before that Idaho wasn’t on the oil and gas boom’s radar, and then in 2010 Bridge Resources’ Denver-based unit reported promising discoveries a mile beneath a dry lakebed in Payette County. At about that same time adjacent Washington County began looking at imposing its own E&P rules.

This caused Washington County business owner and state legislator Rep. Judy Boyle to question whether “another layer of bureaucracy and permitting” was needed, contending that it was a job for the state to do. Industry advocates warned that Idaho could lose good paying new jobs and added revenue for the state to fund its public education system if E&P operations are cut or eliminated.

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