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].
The proposed Smoke Ranch 1-20 well project presents grave risks to the people of Idaho and their potentially polluted drinking water supplies, nearby wildlife refuges, agricultural production and reliant economies, and recreational uses of the Payette River and immediately downstream Snake River and Hells Canyon, while offering few benefits to Idahoans. That industry never bothered with Idaho gas deposits until extreme energy extraction methods arose over the last decade or two infers that Alta Mesa will likely “mini-frack” its wells, as IDL admitted in response to IRAGE/WIRT 2013 campaigns, or acidize gas reservoirs by melting underground rock, or use some other risky “well treatment” process, all which directly threaten the health of ground water, rivers, and streams and reliant communities of every species. Moreover, the scouring force of heavy flood water sediment loads and debris could dismantle earthen berms around this riverside oil and gas well – and perhaps a later storage tank farm, like the six county-permitted ones in the adjacent Willow Creek bluffs last month – and send associated toxins downstream to settle out all the way to the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean.
Appeal Hearing Hinders Gas Processing/Train Loading Facility
After a five-hour hearing of appeals on Thursday evening, December 4, Payette County Commissioners delayed their decision on a conditional use permit (CUP) for a hydrocarbon (gaseous and liquid natural gas) processing plant and train loading facility proposed for a prime agricultural field just east of New Plymouth, Idaho [8, 9]. They intend to address multiple glaring issues raised by the public with their legal counsel and render a final decision on the CUP at their January 5 meeting. The three appellants, Joli and Pete Eromenok, Alma Hasse, and Joe Morton, and supporting citizens and groups researched and worked diligently to organize some great testimony and turnout, including a Centenarian veteran, whom the commissioners allowed to speak first. Unfortunately, because Alta Mesa flew in personnel to comment and consume time at this meeting, many elderly, tired, and/or early-morning working Payette County residents suffered through the long night or left too soon while waiting to give statements for the public record.
But thanks to the team efforts of citizen representatives of Ada, Canyon, Gem, Payette, and Washington counties, the momentum of the Idaho fossil fuel resistance movement continues to grow. As Idahoans awaken to corporate and governmental abuses of their air, water, lands, and rights, Payette County Commissioners witnessed, and hopefully were impressed by, the largest turnout that regular such meeting attendees relentlessly scrutinizing local government have ever seen. In this way, although inconclusive, the hearing was a major victory, compared to the usual rubber-stamping of oil and gas permits opposed by only a few deeply involved activists over the last four years, notably our comrades of almost three years, Alma Hasse and Tina Fisher of Idaho Residents Against Gas Extraction. Just the fact that CUP applicant Alta Mesa Idaho (AMI) felt threatened enough by regional resistance to ratchet up its attendance reveals that citizen delay tactics and the company’s failing finances – dependent on rapidly expended, borrowed money for new infrastructure and now hearing participation – have Alta Mesa running scared. Public pressure will continue to mount: If Payette County permits this CUP, some appellants are prepared to take the case to district court.
Several AMI representatives mentioned personal addresses reflecting county residency, as oil and gas projects advance, including the AMI attorney who was sworn-in and took the stand five times as a resident of Meridian in Ada County. They nonetheless shamelessly disparaged the testimony of concerned citizens from counties surrounding Payette, and complained about the purported lack of legal standing in the hearing of the appealing groups and even an impacted neighbor, even while upholding the anonymity of privately held AMI. As if “two wrongs make a right,” AMI apologists noted that trains carrying hazardous cargo pass through Payette County already, although the 120-mile-long Idaho Northern and Pacific Railroad Company “short line,” servicing this “bomb train” loading facility and operating in southwestern Idaho and northeastern Oregon, predominately carries forest and agricultural products and chemicals. But as railroad shipments increase to accommodate the volatile and toxic supplies and products of extreme energy extraction, the amount of derailments and accidents involving fossil fuel tank cars across the continent has dramatically escalated. Railroad incident investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board verify these numbers and circumstances . Moreover, the higher amounts of oil and gas stored in tanks, left awaiting locomotives on railroad sidings, or flared on site also endanger New Plymouth neighborhoods as much as, if not more than, regional trains transporting dangerous liquid natural gas.
 WIRT Comments on the Alta Mesa Services Drilling Permit Application for Smoke Ranch Well 1-20 (November 14, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)
 Gas Well to be Drilled near Payette River (November 19, 2014 Independent-Enterprise)
 Oil and Gas Drill Permits (November 21, 2014 Idaho Department of Lands)
 Revised Application to Drill Smoke Ranch Well 1-20 (November 21, 2014 Alta Mesa Services)
 A Year Post-Flood, No Mandated Changes for Oil and Gas Operators (September 8, 2014 KUNC)
 Crude Oil Spills into Poudre near Windsor (June 20, 2014 The Coloradoan)
 Benzene Levels in Parachute Creek near Gas Plant Spill Double Again (July 18, 2013 The Denver Post)
 We Wanted to Give Everyone an Update… (December 6, 2014 Alma Hasse Idaho Residents Against Gas Extraction facebook post)
 Appeals to Gas Facility Draw Packed House (December 7, 2014 Argus Observer)
 Railroad Accident Reports (National Transportation Safety Board)