Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) organized several upcoming statewide protests and commented against Alta Mesa Services’ (AMS) plans to drill the Smoke Ranch natural gas well on private land in Birding Island, Payette County. In response to nationwide WIRT publicity of this gas extraction scheme, the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), the administrative arm of the Idaho Land Board and Oil and Gas Conservation Commission authorized to both lease lands and consider and permit such drilling on them (conflicting roles?), released a Fact Sheet for Media with information that counters WIRT assertions and displays alarming duplicity.
Even though IDL states that “oil and gas resources in Idaho generally do not have the [fracking?] issues with extraction that have been reported over the last few years in other states,” they likely will experience these problems, considering the mercenary objectives of oil and gas companies and the state’s conflict of public interest as the major holder of subsurface mineral rights in the target region. State rules “include the requirement that an operator must disclose all materials used for well treatments and fracking [if they are not proprietary brews], and to inform the state of where it will dispose of fracking fluid. Disposal could include the recycle and reuse of the fluid for the fracking process.” If Idaho resources do not require fracking, why has the state established rules about it?
“Small Frac Jobs”?
“The IDL has received no applications to date for hydraulic fracturing. However, approximately half of the currently completed [eleven] wells in Idaho will need a SMALL FRAC JOB to clear the drilling mud from the POROUS reservoir rocks. This frac job is estimated to be only about three percent of the size of frac jobs performed to extract oil or gas from shale, as is currently being done in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and other places outside Idaho. This means they would only be using thousands of gallons of water and not millions…” This IDL statement represents written proof that Idaho is about to be fracked in a similar although smaller way as the places most poisoned by this risky extraction method.
Drilling under a Wildlife Refuge?
Along with other state lands adjoining and under the Payette River, Snake River Oil and Gas/Alta Mesa leased tracts from IDL in the Payette River Wildlife Management Area (WMA), owned (?) and managed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, about one-half mile south of the proposed Smoke Ranch drill site. “The lease stipulates no surface disruption can occur in the wetland area, so therefore no drilling can take place there.” However, AMS intends to directionally drill one or more wells at the Smoke Ranch site, from a well pad constructed before the public comment period closed. WIRT and our allies suspect that the Smoke Ranch area serves as an underground entry point to the gas reservoirs beneath the wildlife refuge and that the WMA lease is merely legal cover for probable later damages.
No Earthquakes or Leaks?
Although IDL asserts that “hydraulic fracturing does not induce earthquakes that can be felt on the surface,” fracking would explode subsurface rocks in a state with the fifth most seismic activity. If Payette County sandstone reservoirs of natural gas are not “tight sands,” as WIRT described in our media release, they could be even more porous and thus vulnerable to methane and drilling chemical migration. Previously tapped wells drilled to depths of 3,750 feet and 4,100 feet in the area have accessed natural gas “below a thick layer of shale…[that] forms a substantial barrier between the gas reservoir and the much shallower water aquifers.” But these aquifers – and irrigation canal systems, rivers, wetlands, and floodplains – lie over a shallower gas reservoir that would be punctured and potentially released, along with drilling chemicals, to the surface by further deeper drilling. Idaho’s idea of “modern drilling practices and well integrity tests” includes allowing injection well operators to apply for permission to inject fluids into leaking wells that have failed critical ‘mechanical integrity’ tests for up to two years (see Idaho Proposed Rules for Class II Injection Wells: Notes and Comments).
Proclaiming “many protections in state law,” why did Idaho allow gas flaring at several Payette County wells during January and February air inversions, if it seeks to “better prevent waste” of public natural gas resources (see Natural Gas Well Testing in Payette County)? If Idaho state agencies work to “protect fresh waters in well drilling and plugging,” why will they soon permit “small frac jobs” that could permanently withdraw and pollute water from the Payette River basin? Our state is not protecting Idahoans from climate-changing drilling operations that will affect the quality of our air, water, and environment for generations to come, long after private oil and gas companies have raided and degraded our public resources and health.