Fruitland and Payette residents seek more control over their new oil and gas frontier
Idaho officials sought to force a Texas oil company to turn over records following an evaluation showing what the state calls “discrepancies” involving production records.
The Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission voted 5-0 on Wednesday to authorize subpoenas for Houston-based Alta Mesa to obtain documents and witnesses to appear before the commission.
The action follows the evaluation by the Idaho Department of Lands of Alta Mesa natural gas and oil records dating back to 2014. The company has missed deadlines to turn over additional information following that evaluation.
The state wants to know if Alta Mesa violated state laws involving the reporting of well production records.
“I’m disappointed in how fast this process is not moving,” said commission Chairman Kevin Dickey. Alta Mesa “appears to be stalling. They appear to be ignoring us.”
Alta Mesa didn’t comment during the meeting. Michael Christian, an attorney for the company, didn’t respond to a phone message.
Dustin Miller, a commission member and the director of the Idaho Department of Lands, said his agency would work with the state attorney general’s office on the subpoenas.
“We should have had this information a long time ago,” he said after the meeting. “This is our opportunity to move forward with action to collect that information.”
He didn’t have a timeline for when subpoenas might go out.
The evaluation completed last summer involved nine wells operated by Alta Mesa. State officials say available records show a discrepancy between production volumes and what Alta Mesa reported that it sold.
The evaluation of the records follow efforts by lawmakers in 2017 to improve oversight of the industry as expected windfalls of oil and gas money to state coffers have failed to happen despite several years of production. Severance taxes on reported production have never matched Idaho’s cost to regulate the industry.
The laws in 2017 revamped the commission overseeing Idaho’s natural gas and oil industry and beefed up the Idaho Department of Lands. Lawmakers also required more detailed reporting requirements for oil companies.
Under those 2017 laws, the commission in February requested Alta Mesa provide production volumes on all oil and gas wells in the state. State officials on May 9 examined those production records and produced spreadsheets they say contain discrepancies. The spreadsheets were given to the five-member commission, which at that time requested additional information from Alta Mesa and now, after going months without receiving the information, has authorized subpoenas.
On a related front, the Idaho Land Board, which includes Gov. Butch Otter, last year directed the Idaho Department of Lands to conduct an audit on three Alta Mesa wells the state has a financial interest in, and that could provide insights into royalty payments and severance taxes. That audit was finished in August, and the board in September requested additional information from Alta Mesa.
In other action, following a federal lawsuit by a watchdog group and several landowners, a federal judge in August ruled Idaho officials violated the U.S. Constitution by forcing the landowners to sell their natural gas and oil to Alta Mesa without giving them a meaningful way to fight the state’s decision. Idaho officials have asked the court to reconsider that ruling.