A dangerous method of oil and gas extraction, hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” forces millions of gallons of pressurized water and toxic substances down wells to crack subsurface rocks and release small, substandard pockets of oil and natural gas. This process produces hazardous wastewater, generates cancer-causing pollution, contaminates air and water, heats the planet, and compromises human and environmental health. Earthquakes triggered by fracking’s explosive charges and wastewater well injections could exacerbate Idaho’s fifth greatest amount of seismic activity in the nation. Now that industry representatives have steamrolled every level of government, southwestern Idaho’s vital agricultural lands and recreational forests and waters could soon be fracked, if we don’t stop them now.
Snake River Oil and Gas and Alta Mesa Holdings purchased 11 purportedly unfracked natural gas wells from financially challenged Bridge Resources in 2012, and together swindled 300 to 400 oil and gas leases from landowners on almost 130,000 acres in Gem, Payette, Washington, and other Idaho counties. For only $2.35 per average acre, they also leased over 1,900 acres of state surface rights and underground mineral rights in Gem and Payette counties, for oil and gas exploration and development of mostly public trust lands along and beneath the Payette River.
In one of two potential Payette County gas plays, porous, permeable rock layers perch a 660-feet-deep drinking water aquifer over the 1400- to 1750-feet depths of the Hamilton field “tight gas” sandstone formation. Cradled within the Payette River bottomlands, looming shallow fracking with hundreds of carcinogenic substances, drilling and filling Class II injection wells with resulting radioactive waste fluids, and predictable leaking of mechanically unsound but state-permitted steel and cement well casings could inundate the surrounding floodplains, wetlands, and irrigation canals with polluted ground and surface water, in circumstances similar to devastated Pavillion, Wyoming.
Profit-driven oil and gas corporations completed seismic testing and mapping in Idaho last November, using earth-shaking “thumper” trucks, geophone ground wire sensors, dynamite blasts, low-flying helicopters, and sound waves near homes, farms, and ranches, to determine the geology of previously unfeasible, unconventional deposits in Idaho. During unusually frigid January air inversions, they flared poisonous, climate-altering gases, while gauging gas reservoir size and pressure at three of the seven originally productive wells. As early as May or June 2013, they could start fracking present sites and drilling new wells for natural gas and more lucrative oil and build connecting pipelines and processing facilities in the New Plymouth area and/or truck well products to regional power plants and refineries.
Although gas well operators frack 90 percent of all new gas wells, proponents have convinced most Idaho officials and residents that they will not frack. Their legislative lobbying tactics further contradicted their intentions. Disproportionately influenced if not written by industry leaders like Halliburton and the corporate consortium American Legislative Exchange Council, a dozen emerging or revised state laws, rules, and regulations accommodate the mercenary objectives of this relatively nascent, expanding dirty energy invasion of rural Idaho, by stripping local control over oil and gas ventures and restricting state provisions against the fracking and wastewater storage that has compromised thousands of water wells and caused earthquakes across the United States.
Among six oil and gas measures passed by the 2012 Idaho Legislature, a passionately contested, industry-modeled statute deviously drafted and fast-tracked by the Idaho Petroleum Council and endorsed under duress by the Idaho Association of Counties states that, “no ordinance, resolution, requirement, or standard of a city, county, or political subdivision, except a state agency with authority, shall actually or operationally prohibit the extraction of oil and gas…” The many detrimental provisions of House Bill 464 preclude traditional local jurisdiction over such facilities siting and activities through planning and zoning decisions, conditional and special use permits, driller applications, and public notice and hearings, and modifies other state codes to relegate such oversight to the rubber-stamping Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and state agencies. An ethics violation investigation of the Republican Senate resources committee chair, who represents the impacted area and belatedly revealed his oil and gas leases before the final vote on House Bill 464, accentuated the conflicting economic motives in Idaho government undermining protection of the public interest.
Just as significantly last year, state legislators codified the rules governing Conservation of Crude Oil and Natural Gas in the State of Idaho, negotiated by industry-dominated stakeholders during summer 2011. These re-vamped regulations grant broader power to the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) that administers the oil and gas leasing program for all state agencies. The comprehensive rules allow pumping of carcinogen liquids into fracking and waste injection wells and require reports of drilling chemicals and materials to IDL unless they are proprietary. But they do not compel such disclosure to local first responders, firefighters, law officers, physicians, and affected communities who may suffer or treat exposure to accidental spills and fumes, well blowouts, intentional dumping, or other emergencies. IDL may only deny well permits in cases of possible resource wasting and/or groundwater contamination and cannot mandate still speculative and likely unsuccessful oil and gas companies to perform any advance baseline testing of water wells in drilling areas or compliance with local health and safety codes.
During the 2013 legislative session, Idaho lawmakers finalized the permit fees, closure bonds, and weakened Rules and Minimum Standards for the Construction and Use of Injection Wells, as requested by industry and formulated by the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) during a second summer of negotiated rulemaking meetings. At his/her discretion, the IDWR director can allow Class II injection wells, previously prohibited in Idaho, for storage and disposal of the various toxic, radioactive flowback/produced fluids generated during oil and gas production. Although no state guidelines explicitly cover underground re-injection of natural gas, these standards permit operators to develop high-pressure injection wells like water wells and to apply for two years of use of wells that have failed critical ‘mechanical integrity’ tests. Along with local jurisdictions that can longer control the permits or placement of these wells, these new rules do not adequately protect communities and private property from fracking fluids and covert industrial waste that have caused earthquakes and contaminated groundwater elsewhere.
The Idaho Department of Lands, the administrative arm of the State Board of Land Commissioners (Land Board) that doubles as the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, has proposed changing the commission membership, who unanimously agreed. Legislative approval would shift oversight of the natural gas industry and subsequent conflicts of interest from the top five elected state officials and the IDL director as secretary to governor-appointed commissioners. Similar to energy boards in other states, the modified oil and gas commission would be composed of two landowners, who either do or do not own mineral rights in a county with natural gas activity, and three experts with respective knowledge of geology, water, and oil and gas. Though such an arrangement would bring overdue experience to the commission, political and/or industry objectives typically motivate commission selection policies.
Poised frackers trumpet greater employment, nearby resources, low-cost energy independence, and economic gains for Idaho during a recession. Maintaining most of the mineral rights transferred from the federal government, under the split estates of property holders in the targeted area, the state would benefit from infinitely renewable ten-year leases and the 12-percent extraction royalty fee. But temporary employment of out-of-state workers, who live in well site travel trailers or Ontario, Oregon, hotels, and project-specific geologists, engineers, leasing agents, and other specialists does not provide work for local residents of the sacrifice zone, whose homes, businesses, and environments may soon lose groundwater quality and quantity and thus property values. Unlike small businesses, Snake River Oil and Gas and Alta Mesa Holdings subsidiary AM Idaho received a requested 85 percent reduction of their tax assessments from the Payette County Board of Equalization last summer, when they claimed non-use of their seven gas wells valued at $9.7 million. Moreover, the Federal Environmental Regulatory Commission is currently reviewing proposals to convert existing import shipping terminals and build additional ports to export liquefied natural gas, which could elevate domestic energy prices in a competitive world market.
Meanwhile, thousands of Idaho citizens, aware of myriad fracking-imposed damages to other American lives and livelihoods, have participated in public processes, but Idaho statutes do not reflect their well-founded objections. Although Idahoans’ comments to their state and county officials, legislators, and agency personnel have strongly influenced debate on emerging oil and natural gas policies, unresponsive and/or negligent public representatives with apparent conflicts of interest have disregarded their constituents’ concerns. Ongoing and impending oil and natural gas exploitation in Idaho, implemented through private and state lands leases, flaring and seismic testing, drilling, fracking, waste wells and pits, pipelines, and associated facilities, transportation, and water withdrawal, alarms residents across the state. Recent industry bills and state measures enacted by the Idaho legislature and governor have facilitated these infringements of citizen rights to the health and safety of their lives and environments.
Many Idaho lawmakers have too readily accepted oil and natural gas industry assurances of security and profitability and have neglected to demand studies to ascertain the significant negative repercussions imposed by fracking and related activities. As increases in domestic production of natural gas race ahead of safeguards and lower-cost, sustainable power derived from solar, wind, and wave energy, hundreds of cities, counties, states, and nations have exercised proper due diligence and enacted bans and moratoria on fracking and waste injection wells. As formally proposed in this petition, the signatories insist that elected Idaho officials immediately ban fracking throughout Idaho, until independent, unbiased, peer-reviewed scientific studies are conducted to assess these potential environmental, health, and social/economic impacts:
Environmental and Human Health Risks
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has documented groundwater contamination by natural gas wells since 1987, and numerous studies have revealed that oil and gas operations elevate noise levels, release noxious and volatile fumes, and contribute greenhouse gases toward climate change. As documented by the U.S. Geological Survey, injection of radioactive, contaminated water from gas and oil wells into underground wells has induced seismic movements in other parts of the country. What are the possible impacts of oil and gas drilling and fracking in Idaho to air and surface and aquifer water quality? How much water would these transitory pursuits forever remove from the hydrologic cycle of the Payette/Snake River basin? What are the chemical compositions and concentrations of drilling fluids and produced water before injection? How would oil/gas/injection wells affect drinking and irrigation water and farmers, ranchers, and agricultural land? What are the health and safety dangers of such activities to children, at-risk populations, and nearby residents? Idahoans deserve advance environmental and health assessments and baseline water and air quality testing before drilling and associated, ongoing monitoring during operations.
Private and Public Property Threats
Idaho citizens have also voiced concerns about the probable damages and consequent costs for remediating harms to public infrastructure and private resources and their values and other uses. As oil and gas exploration, production, and transportation transform rural landscapes into industrial zones, developers could impose eminent domain to acquire property for gathering lines, pipelines, and transmission lines. Intensely increased truck traffic and traffic accidents would degrade traveler safety and aging roads and bridges. For miles around wells, industry poisoned and acidified air, rain, soil, and irrigation and aquifer water could decrease agricultural yields, depress flowering and fruiting in crops and trees, and corrode metal roofs. Livestock health and safety, milk production in the third most prolific state, and property values and insurability accordingly could plummet. Who would pay for these damages? Idahoans need state and local agencies to study and establish appropriate precautions and protections before selling lives, lands, and livelihoods to the lowest bidder.
Oil and gas drilling, fracking, and flaring in other regions have led to accidental spills, gaseous releases, explosions, and fires. Intentional well waste dumping or illegal water withdrawal for fracking could also occur within the affected irrigation district; no procedures could presently stop the flow of water impacted or contaminated by these trespasses. Energy boom areas elsewhere have also witnessed elevated occurrences of worker mishaps and injuries as well as crime, drug use, prostitution, and impaired driving compounded by the transient nature of oil field employees. All of these situations require additional law enforcement and medical staff and facilities and remediation fees and penalties to shift financial impacts from taxpayers and public funds to the perpetrators of dangerous circumstances. Idaho government should at least initiate research and institute plans to prepare for these crises.
Economic Sector Impacts
People from all over the world come to Idaho to enjoy world-class hunting, fishing, river rafting, and other outdoor recreation and tourism hosted by Idaho’s second fastest growing, fifth largest employment sector. The insidious pollution and aesthetic despoliation of rivers, streams, lakes, and dependent terrestrial and aquatic wildlife in the vicinity of oil and gas wells and downriver on the Snake, Columbia, and Northwest river systems would inflict economic losses on tourism and recreation industries and values. Such Idaho energy production would further facilitate development and conveyance of other carbon deposits and extend American reliance on the diminishing returns of climate-altering fossil fuels. Small, local businesses in the drilling zones could also be compromised not just by these industrial activities but by state restrictions of locally protective ordinances regulating oil, gas, and injection well siting and operations. Idaho citizens demand government analyses of these and other economic impacts along with remediation plans to mitigate looming detriments.
Drilling for oil and natural gas, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), and Class II waste injection wells pose serious threats to the health and safety of Idaho’s citizens, communities, resources, and economy. The unsafe and scientifically unsound statutes, rules, and regulations approved by Governor Otter and the Idaho Legislature over the last two sessions do not protect Idahoans from the harmful effects of these controversial practices. We insist that all Idaho officials immediately ban oil and natural gas drilling, fracking, and associated waste injection wells throughout Idaho, until independent, unbiased, peer-reviewed scientific studies are conducted to assess the potential environmental, health, social, and economic impacts of these irresponsible methods of resource development.
 United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Hydraulic Fracturing Background Information,” May 9, 2012
 Brad Iverson-Long, “Snake River Oil and Gas Could Start Drilling in Payette County this Spring,” Idaho Business Review, January 16, 2013
 Larry Meyer, “Natural Gas Well Testing in County,” The Argus Observer, January 9, 2013
 Diana Baird, “Gem County Acres Leased for Oil and Gas Exploration,” Messenger Index, August 15, 2012
 Tina Casey, “Busted, Part Deux! Fracking Chemicals Found in Wyoming Water Supply,” Clean Technica, September 28, 2012
 Aaron Kunz, “Industry Deploys Ground-Shaking Methods In Quest For Idaho Natural Gas,” Boise State Public Radio/Idaho Public Television, September 30, 2012
 S.I. Ovuakporaye et al., “Effect of Gas Flaring on Lung Function among Residents in Gas Flaring Community in Delta State, Nigeria,” Research Journal of Environmental and Earth Sciences, May 15, 2012
 Steve Horn, “Exposed: Pennsylvania Act 13 Overturned by Commonwealth Court, Originally an ALEC Model Bill,” DeSmogBlog, July 27, 2012
 Idaho Legislature, “House Bill 464,” Idaho Legislature website, February 10, 2013
 Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise, “Senate Passes Oil/Gas Bill, 24-10,” The Spokesman-Review, March 14, 2012
 Rocky Barker, “Idaho Senate Democrats Ask for Ethics Investigation of Pearce over Oil and Gas Conflict,” Idaho Statesman, March 15, 2012
 Idaho Department of Lands, “Conservation of Crude Oil and Natural Gas in the State of Idaho,” Idaho Administrative Procedures Act, February 10, 2013
 Katherine Wutz, “Legislature Allows ‘Fracking’ in Idaho,” Idaho Mountain Express and Guide, February 8, 2012
 Idaho Department of Water Resources, “Rules and Minimum Standards for the Construction and Use of Injection Wells,” Idaho Administrative Procedures Act, February 10, 2013
 Idaho Conservation League, “Use of Injection Wells,” Idaho Conservation League website, February 10, 2013
 Rocky Barker, “A New Body to Oversee Idaho Oil, Gas?” Idaho Statesman, October 30, 2012
 The Spokesman-Review, “Editorial: Public Needs Seat at Table as Idaho Sets Drilling Rules,” The Spokesman-Review, February 17, 2013
 Columbia Riverkeeper, “States, Federal Agencies Raise Major Concerns with LNG Export,” Columbia Riverkeeper website, February 10, 2013
 Marina Stefan and Johnny Linehan, “List of Fracking Bans and Moratoriums – Johnny Linehan,” Fracking Hell (UK), February 9, 2013
 S.I. Ovuakporaye et al., “Effect of Gas Flaring on Lung Function among Residents in Gas Flaring Community in Delta State, Nigeria,” Research Journal of Environmental and Earth Sciences, May 15, 2012
 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Idaho Economy at a Glance,” United States Department of Labor website, February 10, 2013
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So, it is not evident where to sign the petition to stop this. Maybe you could make it easier to find or slap a button on your front page, so we can sign this petition.
Thank you for this well-researched and -written article on fracking and its potential impacts on Idaho. The evidence presented is persuasive that corporate profit and government conflicts of interest result in policy that does not fully assess and plan for the inherent risks of fracking. Policy makers need to be urged to carefully consider environmental and economic impacts on all of Idaho, all of our relations, for seven generations. I agree that a ban on fracking in Idaho regions with susceptible aquifers should be advised, until further independent research on consequences is done. Also, it may help to create independent, skilled, educated local councils, insulated from industry pressure, to assess and approve permits.
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