BLM begins process to lease oil and gas rights in Payette County

So far Idaho’s natural gas play has been limited to state and private land.

Eventually federal mineral rights, both on public land and beneath private lands, could go out for leasing. The Bureau of Land Management is beginning the process to consider leasing 5,355 acres of mineral lands in Payette County.

The lease sale area is located within and adjacent to the Willow Natural Gas Field being developed about six miles east of Payette. Alta Mesa Idaho is working on a pipeline from the field on the north side of the Payette River to the Williams gas pipeline near New Plymouth.

The BLM’s Four Rivers will be hosting a public scoping meeting on Thursday, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Payette County Courthouse. This is the first step in a long process that will be complicated because the Four Rivers District has not updated its Cascade resource management plan since 1988.

That plan does make most of the area available for oil and gas leasing, a point in the favor of Alta Mesa and other natural gas developers that may be interested in the federal estate. But since it’s so old, critics and lawyers will be able to pick apart any proposal throughout the long National Environmental Policy Act review.

“The lease sale would allow for the orderly development of the federal oil and gas resource and the payment of royalties to the United States,” said BLM Assistant District Field Manager Matt McCoy.

The BLM will conduct an environmental assessment and if necessary an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act to determine if leasing is appropriate and to set stipulations associated with the lease.

But even if the agency decides to go ahead with the lease, that won’t mean whoever gets the lease will be able to begin drilling. Another NEPA review will be required at that point, and perhaps even another if a field is going to be fully developed.

Since many of the private lands were transferred from the federal government without mineral rights, this process will be controversial. The surface landowners are going to want assurances that whatever the federal government approves for activities on their land is acceptable to them.

Already private-property advocates in Gem County have joined with local environmentalists in Payette County to oppose state oil and gas regulation. Imagine how these folks will view federal regulation.