Letters from the West

Oil and Gas Commission ready to send rules to public

The Idaho Oil and Gas Commission will approve draft rule changes Tuesday as Idaho responds to the continuing natural gas development in southwest Idaho.

The public is going to have 21 days to comment on the rules, which were written in the state’s negotiated rulemaking process with industry, local officials and other groups. Opponents to gas development have been skeptical about many of the rules that will give the state more tools for regulating the new industry.

The issues are diverse and the opposition is too. The long time environmental critics have been joined by private property rights and tea party activists who want more local control.

For example, one rule sets a statewide setback for gas facilities such as dehydrators at 200 feet. Setbacks for drilling rigs and other facilities are a big issue that so far are handled as a county land use planning issue under state legislation approved in 2012.

But the line between the state and counties for the industry lies where a decision essentially prohibits it from building facilities or drilling where it argues it must to do business. The proposed state 200 foot set back does not preempt the county from setting an even longer setback, said Bobby Johnson, oil and gas manager for the Department of Lands.

“We’re not trying to usurp anyone’s power or process,” Johnson said.

Amanda Buchanan, a member of the board of directors of the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils in Weiser was skeptical. She said the rules even allow these facilities to flare gas, which burns the gas as it comes our of a pipe.

“It allows these facilities to flare for up to 60 day 200 feet from somebody’s house,” she said.

The rules would make any company that decides to flare it gas pay royalties on the lost resource, a significant disincentive, since making money is their goal.

Alta Mesa Idaho consultant John Peiserich said he sees the issue as a county issue “as long as it doesn’t materially permit me from doing business.”

Peiserich said he could think of a gas facility that would be regulated under the rule that might need to be at 200 feet or even less such as a pipeline hookup. The rules would allow it if the homeowner would give permission.

But again, the county still issues its own permit and decides its own setbacks.