Officials with Bridge Resources, the Colorado-based company drilling for natural gas in Payette County, were accustomed to getting their way. They had seen nothing but green lights in their effort to launch Idaho's first-ever commercial natural gas production operation.
Land acquisition? No problem. Drilling permits? You bet. Permission to frack (the controversial technique of injecting high-pressured fluids to improve flows through wells)? The Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved temporary rules to allow Bridge to proceed. But things took a bit of a turn the evening of May 12.
Bridge representatives came before the Payette County Planning and Zoning Commission with two requests: to rezone a parcel of land in New Plymouth from agricultural to industrial use and to build a gas compression and dehydration facility on the nearly 13-acre site.
"We would really like to speed up the construction process," said Chas Ariss, a Boise-based engineer contracted by Bridge to oversee the project.
Ariss unveiled a plan that would see a central terminal linking Bridge's gas wells, scattered around New Plymouth. There, moisture would be pulled from the pipeline (tens of thousands of gallons of oil and water are expected to be segregated out on a daily basis). The remaining gas would be pressurized to a level of 850 pounds per square inch, in anticipation of sending it to a main gas line for commercial use. The oil and water would need to be hauled away on a semi-regular basis, but Ariss said the commercial truck traffic would be "minimal." Ariss also downplayed the constant noise from the round-the-clock compressing facility, insisting that it would sound "a bit like noise from a school classroom." Ariss said the plant would be bordered by berms and trees to serve as noise reducers.
But neighbors to the proposed facility were having none of it.
"I've done some research on this, looking at similar facilities," said Kenneth Butts. "Everyone talks about how ridiculous the noise is."
Travis Fisher is another neighbor.
"As far as the berm and trees go, that's just lipstick on a pig," said Fisher.
Commissioner Farrell Rawlings quizzed Ariss and Ron Richards, Bridge's drilling manager, on noise and air-quality issues, and when Richards insisted, "Everything would be safe," Rawlings fired back.
"For you to sit there and tell us everything is going to be fine is just a bunch of baloney," said Rawlings. "When you came in here a year ago, you said everything was going to be red, white and blue. Well, maybe you're not as red, white and blue as you say you are."
Ariss and Richards, seeing that the commission wasn't going to get any friendlier, at least not on May 12, left before commissioners voted 4-3 to deny the conditional use permit and table a public hearing on the rezone issue.
"We need to slow down," said Rawlings. "It's irresponsible to grant a conditional use permit without a full internal review."