Public Weighs in on Idaho Gas and Oil Rules

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Following a summer-long marathon of painstaking rule-making to craft the state's first-of-its-kind rules to govern Idaho gas and oil exploration, the public finally got its chance last night to weigh in on the all-important document. But things didn't get off to a good start.

Citizens milled about outside of the Idaho Statehouse in the dark looking for some way to get inside the building where the hearing was scheduled. Unfortunately, the Capitol Building was locked up tight. Not until a lone security guard showed up did a side door finally open. After some apologies, the hearing got underway to examine the 43 pages of proposed rules.

The hearing was noticeable for who wasn't in the room as much as who was. While attendees included oil and gas industry representatives, conservationists, and at least one elected official, no one from Bridge Resources was in the room. Bridge, the financially troubled company which has been the face of natural gas exploration in Idaho since it begin drilling in Payette County a year and a half ago, was engaged throughout the rule-making sessions this past summer. But its top three executives resigned from the company on Sept. 20, leaving many to speculate on Bridge's future. This morning, the company's stock was trading just above two cents per share on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Much of Wednesday evening's testimony came from citizens with a common concern: safety.

"I'm worried about so-called blow-out preventers," said Randall Harville from Star. "If we learned anything from the Gulf Oil Spill it's that blow-out preventers don't work. They're akin to a square wheel. They simply don't work."

Mike Larkin of the Adams County community of Cambridge made the trip to Boise to voice his concern about short-term or long-term open pits for fluids.

"They really shouldn't be allowed," said Larkin. "I have talked to workers in Wyoming and North Dakota working in gas exploration fields, and even they say pits shouldn't be allowed. We should insist on storing the fluids in enclosed tanks."

Kerry Elle Elliott, a policy analyst for the Idaho Association of Counties, wanted to remind the state that local municipalities shouldn't be forgotten in the process when issuing permits to oil or gas exploration companies.

"We're looking for some provision nothing the counties have permitting authority," said Elliott. "And we're looking for enhanced communications between the counties and the state."

Justin Hayes, program director for the Idaho Conservation League, a regular participant throughout the rule-making process, said his organization was submitting a detailed written list of questions and concerns regarding the proposed rules.

"I should say that we feel a good number of our concerns were truly heard throughout the process," said Hayes. "But one of our chief concerns surrounds the section on hydraulic fracturing."

Hayes again pleaded with the Department of Lands to consider a prohibition of any carcinogenic compounds used in the process of injecting high-pressured fluids into the ground to enhance gas flows.

While Wednesday evening's session was the lone public hearing on the rules, written comments and testimony can continue to be submitted until Wednesday, Oct. 26.

The proposed rules are expected to be turned in to the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission at its November meeting.

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