Guest Opinions

As mineral drilling escalates, Idahoans must be protected

Shelley Brock
Shelley Brock

What are “property rights”?

The arrival of the petroleum industry in Idaho has muddied the answer to that question.

Drilling for natural gas and oil here is a process dating back over a century. While promising reserves were discovered during that time, early technology was inadequate for developing them into commercially viable fields. However, the 21st century brought new and vastly more efficient extraction techniques, including chemical stimulation and hydraulic fracturing, which opened up previously unrecoverable reserves across the U.S. Those methods, along with federal legislation lifting environmental restrictions from gas and oil operations, opened communities like ours up to drilling, bringing this heavy industrial activity to our doorsteps.

We owe our gratitude to the industry that has fueled our vehicles, heated and cooled our homes, powered our appliances and provided so many of the products we use every day.

But do we owe it our civil rights, the security of our greatest lifetime investment — our homes, the quiet enjoyment of that investment, and the health and safety of our families?

For the Idaho nonprofit watchdog group Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability (CAIA), including members who are victims of forced pooling, the answer is a resounding no.

Leases on well over 100,000 acres of Idaho minerals have been quietly procured over the past few years by out-of-state oil companies, many of them without the knowledge or permission of Idaho residents living on the surface. Most of these minerals lie under or adjacent to housing developments, farms, schools, day-care centers, churches, parks, major stretches of the Boise, Payette and Snake rivers, and multiple public roadways.

Leases of state-owned split-estate minerals put unsuspecting surface owners at the mercy of operators legally entitled to commence drilling activities within a mere 100 yards of occupied structures and domestic water wells, and with a meager $6K bond to cover potential damages. Surface owners receive no royalties for this intrusion.

While some private mineral owners willingly signed leases, hoping the risks would be worth the potential rewards, others have been ordered by the state to allow extraction of their gas and oil against their will through the integration, or forced-pooling, process. But CAIA members have said “not so fast.”

A federal lawsuit filed by attorney James Piotrowski on behalf of CAIA and hundreds of Idaho citizens challenges the state’s authority to force mineral owners into contracts that allow private corporations to drill, capture and sell their valuable minerals against their wishes, at prices they don’t agree to, and without providing them adequate due process of law. This constitutional challenge has far-reaching implications for all Idahoans who could find themselves victims of integration should the state prevail.

Piotrowski asserts, “In Idaho we believe a person’s property is theirs to do with as they please, within the limits of the law. This case is about protecting everyone’s right to control what happens to their own land.”

What are property rights? Here in Idaho, we are about to find out.

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Shelley Brock is a longtime Idaho resident, health care professional, artist and grandmother. She is a board member of Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability, an all-volunteer group.