Natural Gas Industry Bill Compromises Local Regulation of Development


As some of you are aware, the industry has created legislation to limit the ability of local governments to regulate oil and gas (HO464).  While there are aspects of this that make sense (i.e. the county has neither the expertise or resources to regulate well casing, mechanical integrity testing, etc.), this legislation goes much further.

Local governments would not have the ability to require the gas industry to follow the traditional special use permitting process (a process that has been in place for over 35 years that involves an applicant going before a planning and zoning commission and participating in a public hearing).  Instead, the gas industry would now be subject to an administrative permitting process for all aspects of oil and gas prior to ‘processing.’  So, in essence, this would include siting of well pads and pits, setbacks, etc.  The Idaho Association of Counties claims that this would essentially involve the planning and zoning manager going through a predetermined checklist of conditions (conditions set in the ordinance).  Currently, when an application is brought forward in this process, the planning and zoning commission has the authority to create site-specific conditions.  Under this potential new legislation, all conditions would be pre-determined.  So, the county would have to envision every possible site for a well pad or pit or road use, etc. and write all of these scenarios with their likely conditions into an ordinance.   The county’s ordinance must contain “reasonable” provisions that are not “repugnant to law.”  According to the IAC, it would be up to the courts to define as reasonable.

The proposed legislation also includes a ban on banning, stating “no ordinance, resolution, requirement or standard of a city, county or political subdivision, except a state agency with authority, shall actually or operationally prohibit the extraction of oil and gas…”  The Idaho Conservation League has commented that this language will inevitably lead to a lawsuit (not a suit against the bill itself, but a suit stemming from its vague language).  Counties could read this prohibition language to mean that they can’t ban something outright, but they have the authority to say ‘no’ to a particular site.  Whereas the industry could use this vague language to claim that counties aren’t allowed to say ‘no’ to anything.

The bill is clearly an attack on Washington County, the only county in Idaho to show interest in creating a land use ordinance for oil and gas.   In a press release last week, the Idaho Petroleum Council announced that it had negotiated the bill with the Idaho Association of Counties, and earned the counties’ endorsement.  Interestingly, Washington County was not asked to be involved in these negotiations and was in fact actively stonewalled by IAC administration in its attempts to be involved.

There are other changes to various regulations in the bill.  These include redefining water rights to exclude geothermal water.  According to the Idaho Conservation League the industry seems to be attempting to get as much “lukewarm” water as they want without having to acquire a water right.   The other change revolves around injection well language.

Over the past few months, I think all of us have seen the benefit in public hearings and in our planning and zoning commission.  As citizens and residents of a defined community, we should have the power to speak out about our concerns regarding land use planning – and to be a formal part of this process.  House Bill 464 is a direct attack on local control and public involvement.

Unfortunately, this legislation is being sponsored by Representative Boyle, Representative Stevenson and Representative Denney, and is being fast-tracked through the legislative process.

The House Resource Committee will be introducing the bill and hearing testimony this Thursday at 1:30 pm MST/12:30 pm PST in room EW40 in the basement of the capitol building.  It is critical that citizens come and testify against this bill.   Everywhere you look, it seems industry is quickly eroding the rights of citizens and local governments.  Corporate personhood seems to take precedence over actual personhood.  The Snake River Gas and Oil Company is currently the only gas company actively involved in signing leases in Idaho.  The Idaho Petroleum Council is more or less Snake River Oil and Gas.  So one member of one single industry has been able to enter the state and quickly convince legislators that they shouldn’t have to follow the same rules as everyone else, which is very disturbing.

Please let me know if you will be able to attend the hearing or if you would like further information on House Bill 464.  Here is a link to the bill: http://www.legislature.idaho.gov/legislation/2012/H0464.htm

(By Amanda Buchanan vlcek_buchanan@hotmail.com)

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