BOISE (CN) - Idaho politicians are paving the way for the oil and gas industry to frack the state and spend tax dollars to provide the industry with information it can hide from the public, stripping landowners of property rights and due process, a grassroots coalition claims.
Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability held a public rally Monday at the statehouse after the Idaho Senate Resources Committee approved S.B. 1339 Friday as an "emergency" trade-secrets bill. A floor vote is expected this week.
"Due process, all transparency, would be obliterated and the process of approving industry applications for the integration of private landowners into forced drilling pools would be transformed into a rubber stamp process if this bill passes," Citizens Allied board member Alma Hasse told Courthouse News.
The bill changes Idaho laws on "integrated" or "forced" pooling, which allows gas and oil companies, such as Alta Mesa Holdings, to force property owners to sign leases that citizens say could affect their property value, mortgage and homeowner's insurance.
Alta Mesa owns about 15 well pads, six in production, in Payette County, near the small rural towns of Fruitland, New Plymouth and Payette. Residents there and Citizens Allied have spent eight months challenging two pooling applications submitted to the Idaho Department of Lands Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
In the integration applications, Alta Mesa asked the commission for an order that would, among other things, allow a 300 percent "risk penalty" to be assessed against any homeowner in the integrated section who cannot write a check to Alta Mesa - up front - for their "shares" of the oil and gas wells and all infrastructure required to bring the wells into production, according to Citizens Allied representative Shelley Brock.
"It isn't in statute or rules, but Alta Mesa has requested this 300 percent risk penalty in the integration application," Brock told Courthouse News.
"They are asking the commission to issue an order that if you refuse to sign an oil and gas lease, you are then 'deemed' leased and are now a nonworking interest owner. In that event, they are requesting that you pay the 300 percent 'risk penalty' if you cannot write a check up front for 'your portion' of the costs. It also states in the application that the forced person will share in the liability."
Citizens Allied has recourse to try to stop the commission from approving the application, but S.B. 1339 would transfer authority to approve or deny to one man - Idaho Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz.
Hasse said the bill provides very limited recourse to challenge pooling applications by, among other things, drastically shortening the time limit in which property owners can appeal an approval.
Schultz acknowledged as much during Friday's Senate Resources Committee hearing on S.B. 1339.
"They know there would be no way a mineral owner, most of whom have no technical or legal background, would be able to participate in an appeals process, and most likely would not have time to retain an attorney with experience in this area," Brock said. "It's intentional."