Mike Dalton wants Bridge Resources to know he is not for sale--not his land, not his mineral rights and not his silence. Yet Bridge, the Colorado-based company that has been poking holes in Payette County looking for natural gas, hasn't given up. For the better part of four years, Dalton said Bridge representatives have been calling or showing up on his New Plymouth doorstep, looking to strike a deal.
"Somebody from Bridge even sat in his car out on our driveway, waiting for us to come home," said Dalton. "They keep coming back. And they keep calling. They left four messages in the last two weeks, but I just erase them."
It turns out that Dalton's farm, which he shares with his wife Cindy and a dozen Highland cows, is a hot property, literally.
"According to Bridge, we live in a hot zone," said Dalton. "They think they could definitely strike gas here."
Bridge has been exploring for natural gas in New Plymouth for nearly two years. The company has already drilled 11 wells. Four have been dry, three have been successful and Bridge has plans to "frack" the rest, the controversial process of shooting high-pressured liquids and sand down a well to enhance gas flows. But company officials don't want to stop there.
In a series of interviews with New Plymouth residents, BW learned that Bridge employees have been busy going door-to-door in an effort to secure landowners' mineral rights in anticipation of an ever-expanding natural gas operation.
"Their first offer is usually around $5 an acre for five years," said Dalton. "For a farmer who is trying to eke out a living and he has, let's say, 800 acres, well, that's not a bad check to help him buy a new piece of equipment."
But Dalton said he had a long list of reasons for being skeptical of Bridge, beginning with the fact that Idaho has yet to write its own set of rules governing natural gas exploration. The earliest the Idaho Legislature will consider the rules currently being negotiated (BW, News, "A is for Act," June 8, 2011) will be early 2012. But Dalton's ultimate justification for not signing with Bridge was more basic.
"They didn't tell me the truth," said Dalton. "I point-blank asked them if they were going to frack, and they said no. I asked them twice, and they said no twice. That's when I decided these guys aren't legit."
BW has asked Kim Parsons, Bridge's exploration manager, for an in-person interview to talk about fracking and her company's operations, but the request, to date, has gone unanswered.
"As if all of this wasn't enough," said Dalton. "Travis Fisher stopped by my house two weeks ago and said, 'Have you heard the latest?'"
Travis and Tina Fisher were also approached by Bridge to sell their mineral rights. After about four months of conversations, the Fishers signed an agreement, but that was before they knew about Bridge's latest venture, a natural gas compression and dehydration facility, to be built on a parcel of land right next to their SW 2nd Avenue home.
"I had no idea they were going to pull this," said Fisher.
The dehydration facility, which Dalton and Fisher call a "refinery," would serve as a central terminal linking all of Bridge's gas wells. There, moisture would be pulled from the pipeline (tens of thousands of gallons of oil and condensation are expected to be segregated out daily).
"If they put that plant in here," Fisher said pointing just a few feet away from his home, "we're ruined. Literally ruined. My land and my home will be worth next to nothing."
Before Bridge gets approval to build the plant, Payette County commissioners might want to consider another challenge: The Fishers manufacture commercial firearms in a shop next to their home, directly next to where Bridge wants to build its facility.
"I'm worried about the potential of them shutting down my ammunition company," said Fisher.
Wendy and Jerry Stelling live down the road at AC&D Farms. It's a busy time for the couple and their three sons (AC&D is named for Austin, Connor and Dillon). You name it, they grow it: asparagus, beets, carrots and just about every other letter in the alphabet is represented by their crops.
"We're so busy, honestly, we hadn't heard about this proposed facility until recently," said Wendy. "But now, we have a lot of our neighbors dropping by, wondering what's going on. We have a lot of questions."
The Stellings chose to build their farm on Custer Road in New Plymouth because of the beauty and bounty of the land. On a pristine June afternoon, the only sounds drifting through the region were children laughing more than a mile away and an occasional moo echoing from a dairy two miles away.
"When we first moved here years ago, we sat out in the alfalfa fields for a while and listened to the quiet. Now we're faced with the noise from this plant and trucks constantly hauling oil or water down the road," said Wendy. "That's why we're very thankful for Farrell."
Wendy was referring to Farrell Rawlings, a Payette County Planning and Zoning commissioner who challenged Bridge officials at a May 12 hearing (BW, News, "Payette Planning and Zoning Denies Permit," May 18, 2011).
"For you to sit there and tell us everything is going to be fine is just a bunch of baloney," Rawlings told Bridge at the May hearing before joining the majority of commissioners in tabling the issue.
But Bridge is expected to revive its effort to build the plant at the next P&Z meeting, scheduled for Thursday, July 14, at 7 p.m. In the meantime, the company will continue its door-to-door negotiating. But they can probably cross Mike Dalton off their list.