Rick Michael, Weiser
The Moscow-Pullman Daily News 2/10/12
As a commissioner of a county that has piqued the interest of the natural gas industry, I am both hopeful about the potential economic impacts and concerned about the risks this industry’s activities pose to groundwater, property values and quality of life. For those who claim there are only two sides to this issue – for or against – I can attest that there is a middle.
Washington County’s oil and gas draft ordinance is a product of months spent researching other county ordinances across the nation, addressing public concerns and allowing for the state’s rules to get updated. The process involved our county planning and zoning office, our P&Z commission, public hearings, etc., and resulted in an ordinance that we believe protects citizens while still allowing for the development of the gas industry.
County governments are charged with different duties than the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. While the IOGCC is authorized to protect correlative rights, prevent waste and protect groundwater, local governments must provide, among other things, for safety, and protect public health and welfare, protect property values and quality of life. When a drilling permit application comes across the desk of the Department of Lands, they will review that application only through the lens of their statutory duties. It is up to local governments to broaden that lens to incorporate the concerns specific to our communities. Local governments should have a substantial voice in this process.
The Idaho Petroleum Council views the local process as a hindrance to their desire to develop gas quickly and cheaply. They have drafted legislation, House Bill 464, which will limit the authority of citizens and planning and zoning commissions over the land use permitting process for gas drilling. This legislation also applies to cities and all other political entities in the state.
Instead of following the same process as any other industry or entity looking to acquire a special use permit, the gas and oil industry’s legislation allows them the privilege of bypassing the local planning and zoning commission and a public hearing. Their application will only be subject to an “administrative permitting” process. This would involve the Planning and Zoning administrator going through a predetermined, generic checklist – and having only 21 days to make a determination. This process will weaken our ability to determine or enforce site-specific conditions.
The industry and IPC’s proposed legislation will impact a local government’s ability to create meaningful permitting requirements, or to exercise much authority or control over siting, residential setbacks and applicable site-specific conditions – particularly concerning exploration and siting of well pads and pits. Had Washington County been included in the process, I would have requested that local control be maintained in the exploration and drilling/development process. The perceived threat was that if the counties and cities did not support this legislation then the industry and legislature would try to cut the local governments out of the permitting process entirely.
In a state as large and as geographically diverse as Idaho, a one-size-fits-all approach to regulation will never address the needs of every community, which is why meaningful local control is critical. The counties and cities should not allow the State and a single industry to strip them of local control. House Bill 464 is a direct attack on local government, local control and citizen involvement in land use regulation. This legislation does to the counties and cities exactly what the state does not like the Federal Government doing to them, and sets a dangerous precedent.
(Rick Michael is a Republican member of the Washington County Board of Commissioners in Idaho.)