Nearly three years ago, Bridge Resources invested time and capital and took a risk on drilling to see if those historic “shows” of gas meant there were economic deposits in the area. Today it’s clear that Bridge was on to something good, and there are other companies exploring for natural gas in what has become known as the Payette Basin.
The industry is new to Idaho but it is well-established in other states. While our old rules governing the petroleum industry date back almost 20 years, revised and updated rules approved earlier this year were drafted with input from a wide variety of sources and groups, including representatives from local governments.
Those who crafted the rules also had the benefit of using knowledge and experience from dozens of states where this industry has existed for decades. We took the best they had, learned from their mistakes and put together a regulatory framework that works well for Idaho.
Perhaps that’s why so many local officials support the legislation. For example, Payette is currently the only county with test wells drilled and there all three county commissioners support expansion of the industry.
For them the new laws will mean consistency and certainty across Idaho. They also mean less confusion, tighter regulations, less duplication of regulations and clear lines of authority for local and state regulators alike. Most importantly, the new rules will result in better compliance by the industry, as they were drawn from states where operators have been working for decades.
Currently there is only one basin with exploration activity. We also need to make sure that state agencies can hire and maintain the technical expertise to ensure enforcement. Local governments should not be burdened with that regulatory expense. Moreover, this framework follows the precedent of Idaho’s other natural resource industries, such as water, timber, mining, and fish and game, which are governed at the state level.
However, the new regulations and legislation governing oil and gas go beyond what’s been done in other resource industries in Idaho and in other states. Local governments are guaranteed the ability to regulate the same kinds of activities they have always overseen under the state’s land-use planning act.
Under the legislation, local jurisdictions can impose reasonable operating conditions, including regulations governing facilities, roads, noise and others facets of the industry.
What they cannot do is pass restrictive regulations designed specifically to prevent oil and gas exploration from happening at all. That is not only reflective of Idaho’s constitution, it is also good public policy for the state.
The clean, safe exploration of homegrown resources is the right opportunity at the right time. We all want homegrown energy to power our economy and serve as a bridge to the future. A thriving natural gas industry means good jobs, tax revenue, and money for the state and for local businesses at a time when Idaho needs it most. Royalties for wells on state lands will fund schools across the state – by some estimates as much as $5.7 million per year.
This industry does not have its hand out. They do not want subsidies. They do not ask for tax breaks. They do not want special favors. And they promise good money for the people and the governments of Idaho.
That is why we are so proud of the hard work from so many people in state government, from local entities, from industry, from environmental groups and from regulatory agencies. Their work helped Idaho craft legislation and rules that will help this industry grow and thrive.
And it will happen the Idaho way: adhering to free-market principles while also protecting the local control we value along with the water and quality of life we cherish.
Suzanne Budge is executive director of the Idaho Petroleum Council.