Good Life

Idaho natural gas fight centers on balance between drilling, environment

As Idaho and two of its counties work to catch up with a new natural gas industry, their struggle could turn this year’s legislative session into another fight between state and local control

Leaders here must write the framework for an industry that promises jobs and economic prosperity and take into account local worries about water quality and property rights.

Some here worry the drillers will have too much power in business-friendly Idaho.

“I think they should have a voice at the table. I don’t think they should be the dominant voice,” said Washington County Commissioner Rick Michael of Weiser.

The Idaho Department of Lands has completed a draft that came out of rulemaking negotiated by the industry, environmentalists, local activists and local officials. Meanwhile Washington County has completed a new draft of its proposed ordinance that would regulate drilling there.

In Payette County, where at least one company is eyeing both digging gas wells and building processing facilities, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved a conditional-use permit for a dehydrator near New Plymouth for removing water vapor from natural gas — with conditions to limit noise and other activities to satisfy neighbors.

But some of the neighbors have already filed an appeal and of 32 people who testified at a hearing Sept. 14, all but two spoke against the plant.

The newly organized Idaho Petroleum Council, which represents energy companies and others that will benefit from bringing the fast-growing industry here, points to an attorney general opinion that says counties are limited in what they can regulate.

“It is clearly the state of Idaho’s position that to the extent it has regulated an aspect of oil and gas drilling and production, local authorities should not attempt to impose different or more stringent regulation,” wrote Petroleum Council Executive Director Suzanne Budge in a letter to Washington County.

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