By Blair Koch
During Thursday’s rally in Twin Falls I had an opportunity to ask GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul a question about private property rights and state vs. county and local control, specifically in regard to natural gas exploration and development.
This topic is near and dear to many Idahoans, especially those aware of HB 464, now making its way through the legislature.
- In addition to prohibiting local governments from putting the brakes on natural gas and oil extraction, the bill strips local control of gas well pad siting as well as control of other key infrastructure planning and moves it to the state level.
Industry and the Idaho Department of Lands contend such management belongs with the state, pointing to law surrounding a century of natural resource management of mining, timber and wildlife.
However, Weiser resident Amanda Buchanan said the natural gas industry is different from timber in that, “they don’t come in and mow down all the trees in your city,” whereas it is common industry practice across the country to hydraulically fracture for natural gas within city limits and even residential areas.
Fracking is a process in which up to eight millions gallons of water and a slurry of chemicals (Idaho won’t ban carcinogenic chemicals, although alternatives exist) pumped at high-pressure into gas wells to stimulate production, as gas is released from the fracture of rock thousands of feet below the earth’s surface.
In fact, Washington County, which the gas industry is eying to develop sooner rather than later, just passed its own planning ordinance for gas development with higher bonding requirements and stricter setbacks than is included in the not-yet-passed state law.
And Paul’s take? Such planning and regulations and not just for gas and oil extraction- should be made from the ground up. Not the top down.
“I’d always personally argue the more local the better,” Paul said, adding that Texas’ capitol Austin has no business telling other communities in his home state how to conduct business. States shaping policy should take direction from its people, not the federal government, Paul added.
If Idaho law makers were taking direction in regard to HB 464- or fracking in general, from the people, they would be making a u-turn, said Jon Norstog Idaho Chapter president of the American Planning Association, an organization representing local level planning and zoning officials.
- “They aren’t listening to the people at all. This bill , HB464, is a complete power grab by industry,” said Norstog.
He said the bill flies in the face of case-law supporting the way current land use is planned and permitted in the state.
Idaho Petroleum Council Executive Director Susie Budge said the legislation simply allows the industry to work within “standard industry practices,” across the state instead of a “patchwork,” of different regulations. Counties with limited resources and industry knowledge should be relieved to simply use the state’s regulatory framework instead of drafting their own, Budge said, as the process can be time-consuming and costly.
In western Idaho more than 100,000 acres are under lease with several companies exploring for gas in the region.
Gas could also be found in southeast and southwest Idaho.