Payette County Commissioners set to decide rules for drilling on Monday
Payette County Commissioners are scheduled to make a decision on Monday on a new ordinance regulating gas and oil drilling in the county.
During a public hearing last week, community members told commissioners that the proposed ordinance needed to be more specific about work times, financial assistance from the state, and training for local fire stations.
Snake River Oil and Gas is purchasing mineral rights in Payette and Washington counties for the purpose of drilling for natural gas. The company has already begun to drill wells in preparation for commercial use.
Company officials have said that all the wells in Idaho were drilled conventionally, without hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The wells are similar to a water well, except much deeper and with a lot more cement and steel casing.
The natural gas business has moved into Malheur County, Oregon, as well, with Western Land Services doing seismic testing earlier this year.
One of the issues that has come up among residents has been the issue of baseline water testing.
The ordinance, if approved, would require baseline water testing on a minimum of two down-gradient domestic wells for the protection of public health and safety.
The applicant would also have to notify land owners who have registered their domestic wells with the Idaho Department of Water Resources and whose property is located within 300 feet of the drilling site.
The county ordinance lists several items for the applicant to test during the baseline testing, including sulfate, aluminum, arsenic, boron, uranium, and radiochemical and organics, such as benzene, ethylbenzene and xylene.
But county resident Tina Fisher said baseline water testing requirements in the ordinance were not enough.
She said she is working to get funding for affected landowners who cannot afford to test their water above and beyond what would be required of the gas company.
“We will hold you responsible,” Fisher told the commissioners about the potential of water being compromised if there were an equipment malfunction. “Or we will praise you for the foresight.”
Some of the other highlights of the draft ordinance:
* Permit applications must include the number of acres to be disturbed, number of wells to be drilled, and the location, “number, and description of equipment and structures to the extent known.”
* Contact information of the individual(s) responsible for the operation and activities at the drilling pad shall be provided to the county and all emergency responders.
Payette County resident Alma Hasse responded to the emergency portion of the ordinance by saying that the local fire departments do not have the sufficient training to protect residents against a gas well accident. She said that a local volunteer firefighter said that their protocol, if something were to occur at a drilling site, would be to stand down.
* The applicant “will make the operation’s Preparedness, Prevention, and Contingency Plan available to the county and all emergency responders at least 21 days prior to drilling of an oil or gas well and at least annually thereafter while drilling activities are taking place” at the well site.
* Site design and installation requires that “vehicular access to a…gas well…solely via a local street is discouraged, unless it can be proven that the only viable vehicular access to the well site is via the local route. The use of collector streets is preferred.”
* Well locations will be a minimum of 200 feet from the residence of the mineral interest owner and a minimum of 500 feet from the residence of any non-owner, unless an agreement has been signed by all relevant parties.
* The ordinance states that the specific location of equipment and facilities is an integral part of oil and gas development. It requests that the operator strive to consider the location of its operations, to minimize interference with county residents.
* Noise was also addressed. The ordinance states that the equipment used creates inherent noise. The operator shall consider noise to the best possible extent, to respect residents around the site regarding noise.
* Site development shall be conducted only between 7 am to 7 pm Monday through Friday and 9 am to 5 pm on Saturdays. Truck deliveries of equipment and materials associated with drilling and well servicing shall be limited to the same work hour restrictions except in case of emergency. However “the operator may request an exception to this section for good cause shown.”
Payette County Planning and Zoning Commission member Chad Henggler stated that the planning and zoning committee put a lot of thought, time, and effort into the ordinance, and it was a complex issue.
The committee recognized that water quality, setbacks and locations, and roads were key issues to address in the ordinance, he said, and it will be up to the commissioners to make the final decision.
Many community members stated that this was a good start to the ordinance, but more was required.
What’s next: Payette County Commissioners are scheduled to make a decision on Monday at 11 am at the courthouse, 1130 Third Avenue North, Payette.
(By Cherise Kaechele, The Argus Observer)