Sherry Gordon: Forced leasing violates basic landowner rights

GUEST OPINION: GAS DRILLING

July 13, 2014 

I attended the July 2nd "rule-making" session for the Idaho Department of Lands' Gas and Oil Conservation Commission. One of the discussion items was "integration" of properties for drilling land units. No reporter was there - too bad, considering how critical this issue is becoming for a sizable number of people in Idaho.

Integration by order (more candidly called compulsory integration, or "forced pooling") is being prepared for the citizenry owning property/mineral rights in Idaho's gas-laden counties. With a majority of properties leased within 640-acre "units," developers will be able to compel all other parties to participate. First the state mandated that counties are to be compelled to host gas drilling - now it's gone on to forcing it onto individuals.

This scenario is typical for the oil and gas field, and those who involve themselves in the industry accept it as a matter of course, arguing for its advantage in ensuring that nobody's gas is inadvertently drawn from under their land by a well nearby, when they wouldn't be recompensed for it. Yet the gain is largely the industry operator's - competition is quashed, and even more people are arm-twisted into helping to pay for operating expenses (if not up front, then taken out of royalties).

And no attention is paid whatsoever to the fact that this forcing of people into the unit goes far beyond persuasive pressure and is incontrovertibly a taking away of fundamental rights.

It's bad enough that the unfortunate people who don't, as it turns out, own their subsurface mineral rights ("split estate") get to be subject to gas extraction without any say in the matter. Bad enough that I can't keep my neighbors from allowing gas wells to impinge on me and my property values, except via minimal wellpad setbacks. Soon gas can be taken from my fully-owned property too, whether I agree to it or not. If you refuse to lease, you will be "deemed leased" (doomed-leased, one might just as well say). Such a rule makes a charade of law (including state laws that supposedly guarantee me private property rights).

And as it stands now, if you refuse to sign a gas lease and are coerced into an integration unit, you will be paid something, but - shock after shock - you could also be forced to have gas-related activity and "stuff" on that very piece of property if that's where the gas company wants it.

So as not to be utterly damned-leased, it's imperative that the rules protect the unwilling deemed-leased from having wells/facilities/roads on their surface land while gas is being sucked from under it. Other states do require consent for such access under these circumstances. Why are our representatives not ensuring at least this?

I'm asked to allow willing mineral estate owners their due right to sell off the gas under their land; so be it. But I'm also due the same basic right of choice. That is being taken away with forced pooling - and made over to the gas industry as a gift.

I argue that without some protection of a property owner's basic rights (such as who can come on my property, what junk I have to see/breathe/hear from my house, what level of risks of fire/water contamination/impaired health I'm to be subject to on my own land), these gifts are not just pro-industry but truly anti-citizen.

The next rule-making session is Tuesday, July 22, beginning at 8:30 a.m. in the Capitol in Boise. These are public meetings - I encourage you to attend, and/or send your comments to brjohnson@idl.idaho.gov.

Sherry Gordon is retired and lives near Emmett in Gem County.

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