The Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) again dismissed Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) comments on a pending Alta Mesa drilling permit and once more did not post these WIRT comments to the IDL website. Despite the apparent hopelessness of the situation, we worked as diligently as possible to comment and further delay construction of the Smoke Ranch 1-20 oil and gas well a few hundred feet from the Payette River. According to the IDL website, Alta Mesa is currently DRILLING this 4000-foot-deep floodplain intrusion, imposing grave risks on Idahoans and their potentially polluted drinking water supplies, nearby wildlife refuges, agricultural production and reliant economies, and recreational uses of the Payette River and downstream Snake River and Hells Canyon. THANKS to Joe Morton, the Idaho Conservation League, and everyone who commented before both deadlines. As one of only a few participants in the extended comment period, we can attest that this well will offer few benefits to Idahoans, especially when the power of heavy, frequent floods scour the well pad and tree, located closer to the Payette River and wildlife refuge islands to the southeast than marked in this map. See our linked comments and the December 7 WIRT Newsletter.
Stalled Payette Riverside Well Needs Comments Today
As Alta Mesa continues to pursue a permit to drill an oil and gas well a few hundred feet from the Payette River, recent comments from a handful of citizens and two organizations have delayed the permit and postponed drilling of the proposed Smoke Ranch 1-20 well, as described in the following chronology shared on facebook and with Idaho gasland area activists. Since drilling began again in June 2013, the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) has dismissed Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) comments about six incomplete or insufficient Alta Mesa applications for well drilling permits. (We missed only one comment period of eight and did not previously send our comments to other agencies.) Like the WIRT comments that influenced the Federal Highway Administration to deny the Idaho Transportation Department/Mammoet proposal to build a “temporary” Interstate 90 megaload on-ramp east of Coeur d’Alene in February 2014, WIRT copied our comments on Alta Mesa’s Smoke Ranch 1-20 well drilling application to pertinent federal, state, and local agencies . For the first time in the history of 19 oil and gas wells drilled or planned in southwest Idaho since 2009, the big state green group so fond of negotiated compromise, the Idaho Conservation League, also commented on this well permit application, but Alta Mesa still dismissed collective floodplain concerns . In response to all of this resistance, IDL atypically forced well drilling application revision and comment period extension to December 7 [3, 4].
November 19: WIRT offers our gratitude for feedback, encouragement, and donations provided by members, who have called these comments “excellent,” “tremendous,” and “thorough, comprehensive, and expert work,” the result of several quiet, fresh, peaceful (but exhausting) all-nighters that re-wrote every possible desperate argument to every perceived authority, drawing again on most of the intellectual capacity and knowledge we could muster. While this loving piece of resistance may represent “intense advocacy for our planet” and the best, last-minute shot that Mama Earth has to stop the industrial madness of a proposed oil and gas well next to the Payette River, we always hope for better possibilities for WIRT and associates. We would greatly appreciate your suggestions of southern Idaho and allied support, pro-bono legal assistance, and Payette County WIRT members with resident status standing to effectively stop this well. Who is up for this effort or referrals of lawyers and citizens who can engage and together move forward with legal and on the-ground opposition to oil and gas companies with much larger capacities?
November 20: Hmmm, yesterday, WIRT sent this note to the IDL: “When can we anticipate your response to the enclosed and attached comments and their posting on the Idaho Department of Lands website?” Today, IDL replied with “Your comments and documents have been received and have been forwarded to the appropriate staff members.” The Smoke Ranch 1-20 well drilling permit application and several other citizen/organization comments have disappeared from the IDL website. Permit? No permit?
November 21: TEMPORARY VICTORY! Today, the Idaho Department of Lands posted “a revised [Alta Mesa] drill permit application for the Smoke Ranch 1-20 well. Comments on the application are due December 7, 2014. Send comments to email@example.com or through the IDL website” . A thousand thanks to everyone who forced revision of the original application with their comments and thus postponed drilling. Despite similar WIRT comments (not sent to other agencies) on six of the seven Alta Mesa well drilling permit applications since development restarted in June 2013, its current application marks the first time that IDL has required application revision and a re-opened comment period. WIRT doubts that the new application, proposing a 4000-foot-deep oil and gas well in a floodplain island near a wildlife refuge and upstream of the Fruitland drinking water intake, has comprehensively satisfied legal requirements. So we will attempt earlier research and comments this time, to assist and integrate with yours. We appreciate your ongoing assistance with these shared efforts to halt further fossil fuel infrastructure in Idaho, as we extend our invitation for integrated, co-signed comments with legal teeth to stop this floodplain development.
Please write to oppose this second Smoke Ranch gas well drilling misadventure! As WIRT continues to closely watch and refute this proposed development, we are formulating and working on a second set of comments, posted soon, to meet the comment period deadline at midnight on Sunday/Monday, December 7-8. We are also researching legal grounds for possibly revoking prior permits with similar flaws that we noted in previous comments, and wondering if Payette County ever granted a floodplain variance on the other, nearby Smoke Ranch well drilled during summer 2013, as required by county and federal laws. Meanwhile, searching for all the legal ammunition that we can find to stop this development, WIRT asked a Colorado comrade – and a core WIRT member volunteered – to refer us to collected information about the impacts and damages caused by and to oil and gas wells and facilities during the September 2013 eastern Colorado floods. They have provided articles depicting examples of spills associated with oil and gas development near rivers [5-7]. Continue reading