The legislative session in Boise is raising red flags about how little regard most of our legislators have for individual citizens and local communities. The Weiser River Resource Council (WRRC) is a grassroots organization of people in southwest Idaho who are committed to improving the quality of life in our communities. One of our key concerns is ensuring that where local communities decide to pursue further oil and gas development, the development be done safely, appropriately and responsibly. Oil and gas development must be done with respect for the rights of individual property owners and for the best interests of their local communities.
WRRC supports the principle of local control and the right of the public to participate fairly in decision-making processes, and to have openness, accountability, and transparency from their elected officials, governmental agencies, and appointed commissions.
Unfortunately, the Legislature has been in a headlong rush to take away the ability of individuals and local communities to have any control over a range of important issues. In particular, Senate Bill 1339 would take away local say in managing oil and gas development.
SB 1339 effectively strips the ability of mineral rights owners to negotiate agreements with oil and gas companies. Mineral rights owners would ultimately be forced to accept terms dictated by the company. Residents who do not own mineral rights would have no standing to contest drilling decisions.
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SB 1339 forces the Idaho Department of Lands to make decisions on drilling permits within a mere 15 business days. While we appreciate efficiency in government, oil and gas drilling is a complex enterprise with inherent risks. Our public officials should be deliberative in deciding on where oil or gas wells should, or should not, be drilled. There is no justification for such an arbitrary and brief decision- making time frame.
SB 1339 is clearly designed simply for the benefit of the oil and gas industry. SB 1399 mandates that the Idaho Department of Lands assist oil and gas companies in preparing their applications for permits to drill and integrate tracts into a drilling unit. In contrast, SB1339 substantially weakens the public’s ability to appeal integration permitting decisions. People will only have 14 calendar days to file an appeal, and that appeal can only be based on information submitted in the application package rather than any other critical information discovered by those attempting an appeal.
WRRC is not fundamentally opposed to oil and gas development; it can be done safely, responsibly and appropriately. We oppose our Legislature’s blatant disregard for the interests of individual property owners and the communities in which they live. We do support policies that promote sustainable, economically strong, self-reliant communities. We further support laws and policies that address the actual costs of impacts to our roads and other public infrastructure, to taxpayers, and to the environment. Please join us in calling for Gov. Butch Otter to veto SB1339 and to have the Legislature pass legislation that truly respects individual property owners and local communities in regards to oil and gas development.
Stuart Reitz, of Fruitland, is a member of Weiser River Resource Council.