Forced Pooling & Acid Fracking in Idaho


Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) is completing newsletters about eighth WIRT celebrations, dismissal of our state court case against doubled, north Idaho, railroad bridges, a re-opened, Coast Guard, comment period on that BNSF proposal, and other related topics, delayed by a recent week of long-overdue rest.  But we are sending this 2019, southwest Idaho, oil and gas information first, drawn from WIRT facebook posts and lodged on the WIRT website on April 17, in solidarity and support of a Tuesday evening, April 16, talk in Moscow.

CAIA Presentation in Moscow

The Moscow Sustainable Environment Commission (SEC) will host a Skyped, slide presentation and talk by Shelley Brock of Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability (CAIA) at 7:15 pm on Tuesday, April 16, at the Water Operations Building, 201 North Main Street in Moscow, Idaho [1].  Shelley will discuss oil and gas well issues in Idaho, including landowner and CAIA, legal challenges of state forced pooling/integration processes, by which the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and Department of Lands force property owners to lease their mineral resources and rights to oil and gas companies.  Please attend this insightful event and/or contact SEC at sec@ci.moscow.id.us or 208-883-7133, for further information.

Forced Pooling Court Decisions & Public Input

“U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill had ruled in August that the Idaho Department of Lands’ procedure for forcing mineral rights from unconsenting owners into pools for extraction violated due process.  After Winmill reaffirmed the ruling on February 1, the state faced a deadline early in March to formally appeal…CAIA, an Eagle-based group which had joined in the suit challenging the forced pooling methods, noted…that the state had opted not to contest Winmill’s ruling…Idaho Department of Lands hasn’t announced next steps to address the due process shortcoming [2].

…Unlike the CAIA-led suit against Idaho gas and oil regulators, the class action complaint filed March 1 in Payette County was brought by [nine local] lessors who signed [six] agreements to lease their mineral rights.  The complaint seeks to end [gas producer] Alta Mesa’s alleged practice of deducting a portion of the producer’s midstream expenses from the lessors’ royalty checks [that the oil and gas leases do not expressly authorize].  It also points to a requirement under the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Act that interest of 12 percent be added to royalty payments not paid within 60 days of their due date…The action is brought on behalf of the class of all ‘persons who are or were royalty owners in Idaho wells where defendants [various Alta Mesa entities and others] are or were the operator…from January 1, 2014 to the date class notice is given…The class claims relate to royalty payments for gas and its constituents (such as residue gas, natural gas liquids, or drip condensate)’” [2].

Despite a Tuesday, April 9, deadline for comments, please write an email to Kourtney Romine (kromine@idl.idaho.gov) at the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) and blind-copy your input to CAIA (sb-caia@hotmail.com), objecting to the state practice of forced lease pooling that allows oil and gas drilling operations against property and mineral owners’ wishes, and providing suggestions for better processes to protect vulnerable communities from similar, future activities, as prompted by the linked, CAIA, talking points and ideally regulated by proposed rulemaking [3].  If possible, also attend and/or watch the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (IOGCC) hearing at 1 pm on Tuesday, April 23, to pack room EW 42 of the state capitol and/or testify for three minutes about “just and reasonable” terms for future, forced pooling applications that impose inadequate compensation and profound risks on Idaho citizens.  Thanks to Shelley Brock of CAIA for her action alert!

Acid Fracking of Payette County Wells

Since July 2018, Alta Mesa has been matrix acidizing the tight sandstone formation reservoirs reached by Payette County oil and gas wells, with extremely hazardous hydrofluoric acid and xylene, chemically dissolving deposits and stimulating hydrocarbon flow under lower pressures than hydraulic fracturing (fracking), without providing essential information, undergoing application review, and sending final reports on well treatments and waste fluid disposal to state regulators, who did not file an unpublicized, administrative complaint and charges until February 5, 2019.  Meanwhile, IDL and Alta Mesa officials have countered numerous citizen concerns about hydraulic fracturing with public statements like one by Lieutenant Governor Brad Little during a televised, late-October 2018, gubernatorial debate: “There is no fracking in Idaho” [4].  Hundreds of informal, WIRT petition signatures against fracking and associated waste injection wells were stolen from a vehicle within days of that broadcast.

“According to an administrative complaint and notice of violation filed by the Idaho Attorney General on behalf of the Idaho Department of Lands,…Alta Mesa, which has several natural gas wells in Payette County, violated Idaho code by ‘treating a well’ without…giving ample notice to or getting approval from the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and not obtaining a permit and paying applicable fees before…requesting by email [to IDL] on July 9, 2018, the authorization to use acid treatment in the ML Investments 1-11 well,…which included 500 gallons of Xylene and 1,000 gallons of a mixture that contained 15 percent hydrofluoric acid,…by the end of the day…[IDL denied work permission, but] on July 13, 2018, Alta Mesa’s attorney by phone, and subsequently Alta Mesa by email, informed IDL that Alta Mesa had already proceeded with treating the well…The alleged violations…carry a proposed civil penalty of $20,000” [4].

Besides failing to provide state-requested production records for various wells last fall, Alta Mesa was also “charged in October 2018 for recompleting a gas well without proper protocol, including permits.  In that instance, the state settled…for a fraction of the proposed penalties…[CAIA confirms that] ‘industry representatives here have admitted from the start that they would use whatever means necessary to produce those wells’” [4].

But “Alta Mesa will pay less than half of the civil penalty fines originally proposed in a complaint filed in February [5]…In the settlement agreement and consent order, AM Idaho, also known as Alta Mesa, admits to the violations [of] rules within the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Act…when Alta Mesa took steps to perform an acid treatment on the ML Investments 1-11 natural gas well in July 2018 before getting approval.  According to the agreement with the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Alta Mesa has 30 days to meet its terms.  Those include paying the civil penalties, retroactively applying for the well treatment, as well as paying the $1,000 for the application, and handing over a report that IDL officials have repeatedly requested since they discovered the violation” [6].  For the two violations of performing a well treatment before obtaining a permit and failing to submit a complete report afterward, the state agreed to fines of only $8,000.

Local journalists have asked IDL officials about monitoring of nearby groundwater wells and chemical treatments of other oil and gas wells in Payette County.  Public drinking water systems, homeowners, and three private water well owners near the ML Investments 1-11 well are not located within the quarter-mile radius close enough to be notified of the acid treatment and/or to request Alta Mesa payment for water well testing before and after those operations, according to Idaho administrative rules.  The Houston, Texas company is responsible for monitoring nearby freshwater sources, if deemed necessary, while the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality wastewater program has oversight of Alta Mesa’s produced wastewater disposal practices, “to protect public health as well as Idaho’s surface and groundwater resources” [5].

“ML Investments 1-11 isn’t the only well in Payette County in which Alta Mesa has utilized chemicals” [7].  Mick Thomas, IDL oil and gas division administrator and secretary to the IOGCC, stated that other wells “are using low amounts of other chemicals downhole to assist in production, but these are not considered well treatments,” as defined by Idaho administrative code.  “They are not being injected into the formation [as through acidizing and fracking], but are introduced downhole inside the production tubing.”  For example, Alta Mesa uses paraffin wax inhibitors in wells throughout Payette County and the Willow Creek area, where the Kauffman 1-9 well has yielded crude oil since 2015 and a class action, state lawsuit on royalties underpayment in 2019 [8].  Well-site and emergency responder documents disclose the particular chemical composition of carcinogenic paraffin inhibitors, which “often include a solvent, such as benzene, toluene, Xylene, ethyl benzene, propyl benzene or trimethyl benzene” [7].  The cities of Eagle and Fruitland, but not Payette County, require inclusion of chemical tracers in all oil and gas drilling fluids to track leaks or spills.

Alta Mesa & Idaho Gasland Decline

“Overall, natural gas production on the Willow Field in Payette County appears to be slowing down, with fewer…wells in production,” as volumes of hydrocarbons and liquids reported to IDL and posted on the IOGCC’s website, along with extraction methods and waste disposal locations, have declined from 207,830 units of natural gas produced by 12 wells in January 2018 to 115,105 units from only four wells in January 2019 [5].  But “acidizing usually occurs in aging wells that are in the final stages of production” [4].

Such reductions may result from the primary, Treasure Valley, oil and gas driller, Alta Mesa, incurring ongoing financial decline, pulling its Idaho business license, and perhaps leaving Idaho.  “On February 20, Alta Mesa withdrew from conducting business in the state of Idaho.  The company is facing another class action lawsuit,…and according to market reports, the Texas-based company’s stock has fallen by 97 percent” [9].  While it could sell or transfer to another corporate name its assets in Idaho, residential property and agricultural business owners in the lower Payette River air and water sheds are expressing concerns about the aftermath of  Bridge Resources, Snake River Oil and Gas, and Alta Mesa exploits since 2010 [10].  Ongoing vigilance and resistance to these oil and gas operations and their ramifications are crucial to Idaho citizens defending the value of their homes, their private, oil and gas resources and rights, their opportunities for local governance, and the environmental and public health and safety of water and air resources increasingly compromised by toxic chemicals.

For instance, since passage of Idaho House Bill 464 in 2012, Idahoans have consistently rallied massive opposition to state legislators and county officials, bought and influenced by Alta Mesa, other polluting industries, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), undermining local government protections of people and places [11, 12].  And private property owners are not the only parties oppressed by industry and state enforced integration/forced pooling practices.  In November 2016, Alta Mesa proposed the state integration orders challenged in federal court, to extract potential natural gas from three spacing units beneath Fruitland.  “The City of Fruitland is among scores of other Fruitland area property owners that were included in an Alta Mesa Idaho application to pool uncommitted mineral rights.  The city’s drinking water plant and part of the city’s old wastewater treatment system are both on ground covered by the oil and gas development firm’s integration proposal” [13].  After dangerous drilling, gas flaring, and risking water supply contamination at the Barlow and Fallon wells across the Payette River from the City of Fruitland water and wastewater facilities in early 2018, Alta Mesa has closed or “shut in” these floodplain and other area wells that have begun “producing water along with the oil or gas” [4, 5].

Thanks for your fossil fuels resistance!

[1] Sustainable Environment Commission Agenda: April 16, 2019, Moscow Sustainable Environment Commission

[2] Suit Alleges Alta Mesa Underpays Gas Royalties, March 20, 2019 Argus Observer

[3] Call to Action – Just Two Days to Respond!… April 7, 2019, Shelley Brock to Idahoans Against Forced Pooling

[4] AG Alerts Alta Mesa that It Violated Regulatory Rules, April 2, 2019 Argus Observer

[5] IDL Gives Alta Mesa 30 Days to Meet Terms in Settlement over Violations, April 10, 2019 Independent-Enterprise

[6] IDL Settles with Alta Mesa over Regulatory Violations, April 9, 2019 Argus Observer

[7] Idaho Department of Lands Official: Chemicals Are Being Used Elsewhere, April 9, 2019 Argus Observer

[8] There’s Oil in Those Hills! June 28, 2016 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[9] Fruitland Homeowners Worry about the Future, March 10, 2019 KIVI

[10] News Flash: Thanks to KIVI News Boise for Their Sneak Preview…, March 10, 2019 Shelley Brock

[11] Despite massive opposition against HB127…, February 20, 2019 Shelley Brock

[12] Search Results for: House Bill 464, Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[13] Judge: Idaho Department of Land, Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Violated U.S. Constitution, February 6, 2019 Argus Observer

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