Letters from the West

Lawmaker defends shelving oil & gas critics’ comments on proposed regs, releases letters

Picture shows a subsidiary of Alta Mesa's natural gas dehydration plant near New Plymouth.
Picture shows a subsidiary of Alta Mesa's natural gas dehydration plant near New Plymouth. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

House Resources and Conservation Chairman Marc Gibbs didn’t initially share letters sent to the committee by oil and gas activists supporting legislation they say would protect landowners.

But he changed his mind Monday and handed the letters out as he started a marathon hearing that ended Monday evening with no action. The committee will resume consideration of the bill Tuesday.

Meanwhile Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and House Speaker Scott Bedke joined three lawmakers Monday in endorsing the bill to increase transparency and competition in Idaho’s oil and gas industry. “No piece of legislation is ever perfect. However, House Bill 301 is a step in the right direction for an industry that could provide big benefits for Idaho – if we do this right,” they wrote in an opinion submitted to Idaho newspapers.

Members of Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability, a group that has been critical of Idaho’s 7-year-old oil and gas industry, sent dozens of letter in support of Republican Rep. Judy Boyle’s bill that requires more transparency and encourages competition in the industry. Gibbs, that group claims, held those letters up but provided his committee with letters written in opposition.

CAIA was “outraged by this elected official’s clear abuse of his chairmanship through obstructing critical information, in what strongly suggests a show of favoritism toward one company over the rights of Idaho citizens,” said Shelly Brock, a CAIA board member.

But Gibbs reversed course when the hearing began, handing out the packets of letters and telling the crowd he did not intend to favor one side over the other.

Gibbs, R-Grace, first said he held the letters because they were written in support of Boyle’s first version of the bill, HB 232. He also held that particular bill in his desk and it is no longer before the committee. Boyle introduced a new version last week, HB 301, which had a long hearing Monday before it adjourned.

Boyle, R-Midvale, and her District 9 colleagues, Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, and Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, pressed for the legislation after complaints from property owners and suspicions that the state and landowners weren’t getting their fair share.

Brock said the CAIA letters were first emailed March 7. When committee members reported they had not received them, a CAIA member hand-delivered 20 packets of hard copies March 9.

On March 17, Gibb’s secretary wrote to tell the group the letters had been tucked in a drawer.

“It’s a different bill (now),” Gibbs said.

“Our charge as a committee is to foster oil and gas exploration for all citizens of Idaho,” Gibbs said. “This statute should be for all of the citizens of Idaho and not one geological area.”

Kerby had described the legislation as a “District 9 bill.” All eight producing wells in the state owned by Houston-based Alta Mesa are in Payette County and that district.

Brock, of Eagle, said her group represents people far beyond Payette County.

“For these documents to be blocked without our knowledge is the worst kind of deception and we question the legality of that action,” Brock said, “as well as the level of integrity and accountability demonstrated by any elected official capable of doing such a thing.”

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker