Alta Mesa Services (AMS) of Houston, Texas, submitted an application to the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) on April 30, 2013, for a permit to directionally drill a natural gas well under Highway 52 in Payette County, Idaho (1). Unlike the eleven wells sunk by Bridge Resources in 2010 and 2011 in the shallower (1400 to 1750 feet), “tight” gas sandstone formation of the Hamilton field under Payette River bottomlands, this well represents the first incursion into the Willow gas field. This deeper of two potential plays in southwestern Idaho lies beneath the hills and buttes surrounding the agricultural communities of New Plymouth and Fruitland, below the Hamilton sandstone and underlying shale, at depths between 4500 and 5800 feet in sands over basalt. Idaho activists are concerned that the company could hydraulically fracture (“frack”) rocks almost a mile underground, like drilling practices used to extract hydrocarbon deposits from shale formations, to obtain natural gas and/or oil from this Smoke Ranch lease of mineral rights.
A dangerous method of oil and gas well stimulation, fracking forces millions of gallons of pressurized water and toxic substances down wells to crack subsurface rocks and release small, substandard pockets of oil and natural gas. In dozens of states across the country, this process has produced hazardous, radioactive wastewater, contaminated air and water, generated cancer-causing pollution, compromised human and environmental health and safety, and released greenhouses gases causing climate change. Earthquakes triggered by fracking’s explosive charges and wastewater well injections could exacerbate Idaho’s fifth greatest amount of seismic activity in the nation and consequently shatter the mechanical integrity of such inherently toxic oil and gas wells.
The proposed Smoke Ranch well would drill and potentially frack Birding Island, within the extensive wetlands and floodplain confluence of the Payette River and Big Willow Creek, only a few miles upriver from the City of Fruitland drinking water intake and the Payette/Snake River convergence (2). Under the surrounding landscape full of farms, ranches, livestock, and wildlife dependent on clean surface streams and irrigation canals, aquifers only 660 feet deep perch, without much distance or barriers, over gas-bearing zones in porous layers punctured by drilling activities. Continue reading