Smoke Ranch Well, Payette County, Idaho 7-9-13 (Alma Hasse photo)
On Thursday, April 17, 2014, beginning at 9:30 am MDT, the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners will offer oil and gas leases of state lands and sub-surface mineral rights for sale to the highest bidder, at the director’s office of the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), 300 North Sixth Street, Suite 103, in Boise, Idaho . IDL periodically conducts these public auctions and administers subsequent leases, with oversight and approval by the Land Board. The 12.5-percent royalty derived from extracted oil and gas raises funds from lands held for the public trust and state wildlife and transportation departments and for specified beneficiary institutions through the state endowment trust. Of the 150 tracts in Ada, Canyon, Gem, Owyhee, Payette, and Washington Counties, 36 parcels are located under or adjacent to the Boise and Snake Rivers and many involve the split estates of private landowners and state mineral holders .
Minimum, competitive bids by drilling companies at the oral auction open at only $0.25 per acre for the 17,700-plus acres available for leasing. Successful bidders must pay their bid and the first year’s annual rental of $1.00 per acre for leases lasting up to ten years. If the lease is not drilled or productive, IDL assesses an additional drilling penalty of $1.00 per acre per year starting in the sixth year. The state requires a $1,000 bond for exploration on each lease, which increases to $6,000 prior to drilling, in addition to a drilling permit bond issued by the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Before entry on state lands for seismic exploration, the company must acquire an IDL permit costing $100 per mile across contiguous tracts or a minimum of $100 per section.
The last state lands and minerals auction on January 16, 2014, in Boise, Idaho, generated $694,000 in bids for the state of Idaho [3, 4]. The Idaho Department of Lands leased 8,714 acres for oil and gas drilling – including 4,130 acres in and alongside the Boise, Payette, and Snake river beds – for an average of $80 per acre to the lone bidder, Alta Mesa Idaho. The April 17 auction will double this previously largest amount of Idaho public lands and minerals leased in one period, bringing the total to nearly 98,000 state acres, leased for as low as $2.35 per acre on average, besides the thousands more private acres leased in six southwestern counties . Fourteen drilled but capped wells, awaiting pending pipelines and processing infrastructure, have prefaced the first producing well in Idaho in February 2014, on the Teunissen Dairy near New Plymouth. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality found toluene from drilling mud in a water well several hundred feet away in fall 2012 .
If the people of Idaho own all of these myriad acres of public trust and endowment trust state lands and minerals auctioned for oil and gas exploitation, which respectively “benefit” the general fund and public schools, how can Idahoans influence and determine how our state stewards these shared resources? Allowing the same agency – the Idaho Department of Lands – to both regulate and lease oil and gas development on state holdings seems like a conflict of interest, especially because the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that oversees industry regulation is politically appointed and receives a 1.5-percent severance tax on oil and gas production for its “responsibility.” At least Idahoans can vote out of office the state’s highest elected officials on the Land Board, for leasing and selling off our precious, impacted lands, resources, and waterways for bargain basement prices.
Because the last five years of frenzied oil and gas rule-making, legislation, drilling, and exploration, centered primarily in Payette County and the Boise halls of government, represent industry’s first forays into Idaho’s still relatively pristine, and thus increasingly valuable, watersheds, the time has now arrived for communities across the state to organize and resist looming drilling, fracking, and acidizing of oil and gas wells. Historic and current fossil fuel development in the state infers that major portions of Idaho are ripe for development and could eventually suffer in the boom-and-bust crosshairs of dirty energy corporations . Please participate in one or hopefully all of these opportunities for citizen protection of our clean air, water, and lands: Continue reading