Senate Deadlocks on Amending Gas Drilling Measure; Lt. Gov. Casts Tie-Breaker

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The debate over local control when it comes to Idaho's burgeoning gas exploration made its way to the floor of the Idaho Senate Friday morning.

What started as a series of speeches promoting the benefits of oil and gas exploration evolved into a robust debate of how much input Idaho cities and counties should have in determining where, or even if, oil and gas wells should be allowed.

"I want the oil and gas industry to succeed and move forward, but I also have grave reservations about this bill," said Rupert Republican Sen. Dean Cameron, referring to House Bill 464, which would give ultimate authority on permits for oil and gas drilling to the state, trumping local oversight. "I have received a good deal of correspondence from our counties that are expressing their concerns."

The bill's sponsor, Montepelier Republican Sen. John Tippets, criticized what he called "comments in the press that seem to indicate that the oil and gas industry had threatened cities and counties to take what they could get instead of having a bill rammed through where cities and counties wouldn't be given any authority."

But Cameron questioned Tippets about what would preclude the state from allowing well sites in the middle of municipalities.

"There's a possibility here that we could see an oil well in downtown Boise," said Cameron. "That's not attractive to me."

Boise Republican Sen. Mitch Toryanski said he was troubled by some of the bill's current language.

"A tweak here and a tweak there and I think we could inspire a lot more confidence in the public in this process," said Toryanski. "I think that's important."

Toryanski quickly found support for his motion from Ketchum Democratic Sen. Michelle Stennett.

"We've been traveling across the state during this legislative session," said Stennett. "And we continue to hear that oil and gas exploration is a concern. I've received piles of communications begging for local participation on this issue."

But New Plymouth Republican Sen. Monty Pearce, whose district includes the region where most of the gas exploration has been focused, pushed back.

"If we open up this can of worms, we're going to allow this same group to tamper with our mining," said Pearce. "Do you realize that it takes seven years to open a new mine?"

But Cameron disagreed.

"Nobody is talking about doing that. That is so far-fetched," said Cameron.

Ultimately, Toryanski's motion to send the bill back to the amending order for changes ended up on a 17-17 tie, leaving the deciding vote up to the Senate president, Lt. Gov. Brad Little.

Little's vote had even extra added weight, considering that he had previously disclosed that his family had negotiated to sell its land and mineral rights to oil and gas exploration companies.

Little sided with Toryanski to send the measure back to the amending order.

After a full morning of debate, the Senate recessed for the weekend.

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