BOISE, Idaho — When the Idaho Legislature meets in 2012, it will be asked to approve new regulations for the natural gas industry. Bridge Resources and now Snake River Oil and Gas believe there is a significant amount of natural gas in Idaho.
The natural gas industry in Idaho renewed efforts this month to gain support for drilling. It hope to start drilling soon, once the state approves regulations and local governments give the go-ahead.
Suzanne Budge represents the Idaho Petroleum Council. Her trade association organized a tour of Idaho in December for out-of-state natural gas industry officials. They came here to make the case for drilling. She says finding pockets of natural gas in Idaho should be something to celebrate. Calling the find one of the limited bright spots after years of economic downturn.
Budge says because the industry isn’t established in Idaho, they will need to hire people to build roads and buildings. Those are well paying jobs that don’t require college degrees. That could jump start Idaho’s economy by lowering the unemployment rate and boosting tax dollars the state needs to pay for things like education.
Despite the economic benefits, there has been questions about the environmental risks of drilling for natural gas. Critics blame natural-gas drillers for causing gas and fracking fluids to seep into the ground water supply in places like New York and most recently in Wyoming. Earlier this year the Environmental Protection Agency announced that the method of extracting natural gas by Encana Corp. may be linked contaminated drinking water.
The gas industry has already called the EPA report misleading. Industry lawyer John Peiserich says the testing conducted by the EPA fails to provide solid proof the natural gas industry is to blame. He calls the report premature and says more testing is needed.
Amanda Buchanan who lives in Weiser, Idaho attended one of the meetings conducted last week where the industry made their case to political leaders and local residents. She thought the industry leaders would address contamination concerns like those in Wyoming. But she says they seemed to focus on the benefits and not concerns over safety.
John Peiserich, a lawyer who represents oil and gas companies nationwide disagrees. He says safety is the industry standard - in Idaho he says drilling for natural gas is less involved. For instance, the industry won’t have to use the same chemicals that have been used to frack in other states because Idaho’s geology is different.
In Wyoming, New York and other locations, natural gas is found in shale - a hard brittle rock. But Peiserich says in Idaho, it’s found in sandstone, trapped within the rock like a sponge. He makes the comparison of a balloon filled with helium. If you stick a straw into it he says, the helium will flow naturally up the straw.
This month the Idaho Oil and Gas Commission enacted temporary rules for natural-gas drilling. They will become permanent if the Legislature approves them next year.
Idaho Governor Butch Otter presides over that commission and says the regulations address many of the concerns he has. For instance it requires companies to recover the fluids used and safely dispose of them. Idaho’s Governor says he hopes the rules look at neighboring states and learn from their mistakes.
Amanda Buchanan, the Weiser resident who attended last week’s meeting, isn’t sold. She thinks the industry isn’t telling the whole truth and wants it to acknowledge the environmental risks associated with drilling. She says it would make it easier for her to support the industry if they would address the problems and work with the community to lower the risk.
Peiserich, the lawyer for the natural-gas industry, says that’s the intent behind the recent meetings with stakeholders. But getting everyone sold on something this new to the state is an uphill battle.
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