By Brynna Smith    Cover photo by: dontfrackidaho.org

Last February I wrote an article called “A Local Look At Oil And Gas” relating to our experience living in the first “force pooled” (integrated) section in Idaho for natural gas exploration.  I wanted people to understand why some of us are very frustrated about this, and why it isn't just a for-or-against the industry issue.  Because what is happening within Idaho is kept fairly well under wraps unless you are directly involved or know exactly where to look, I thought it would be fair to share an update so that the rest of Idaho is able to keep up with the developments, because Payette County will not be the only place this all occurs.

To recap my previous letter, we were approached two weeks after we moved into our new home just outside the city limits in Fruitland by an Alta Mesa landman, and then several more times in the next year.  Because we are not comfortable with their lease terms, we never did sign a lease on our mineral rights, nor did we consent to anything, yet we were “deemed leased” by Alta Mesa once they acquired leases on 55% of the acreage in our 640-acre section.  This was despite their applications being withdrawn and changed numerous times (but keeping previous leases from each one), and using deceptive methods of acquiring signatures from many homeowners.  We were lied to directly, stories were constantly changing, Alta Mesa didn’t allow any negotiation of price, people were monetarily bribed, and there was almost no open conversation allowed.

In the last year, new legislation has been passed regarding oil and gas, changes have been made to the commission (including putting a Payette County Commissioner who owns gas leases in the position of helping oversee industry development), there is finally an application for a drill site regarding the “mystery” well in our section (they don’t provide homeowners with the exact location until after integration, so you may not have any idea where they will place it when you are signing your lease), and we had a very long period of essential radio silence on the side of Alta Mesa and the Idaho Department of Lands.

Fast forward to this month, September of 2017.  Two weeks ago it was brought to our attention by other local homeowners that we are being integrated into another, overlapping spacing unit, so that Alta Mesa can drill another natural gas well in this area.  We did not receive this application personally, even though we are a part of it, but it was shared with us by people who DID receive it.  This new spacing unit takes the “quarters” from sections 14, 15, 22, and 23, to form an additional 640 acre section.  The important thing to realize here is that this new section goes well into Fruitland city limits- it goes along Richey Road, down NE 8th Street (and continuing to Hwy95), along Whitley Dr/Highway 95, and back up NW 24th street (to continue along the river/property past it to make a square.  So for reference, this will include locations such as Dickinsons, the Hometown lot, Woodgrain, Desert Rose Estates, Mesa Park and the nice subdivisions surrounding it, and the Walnut Avenue subdivision, just to name a handful of familiar places.

Our main issue with this is that instead of having to acquire new leases for this section, Alta Mesa is apparently using the leases as well as the integration of “non-consenting” homeowners/landowners from Section 14 as weight toward this new integration application, meaning they instantly need less consent for the new section.  (Interestingly, this quarter of our Section 14 that is being included in this new unit has a high amount of non-consenting homeowners)  We, as well as many of our neighbors, have NOT consented to anything in our current section, but we have not even been provided the information from Alta Mesa for this new spacing unit we are now doubled into, because so far it seems to be okay for them to use separate section information.  Not only were we not informed, but this also means that at this point, Alta Mesa will apparently not be paying double royalties to those land and homeowners who are in both spacing units.  (Not to mention that Alta Mesa sets the cost of the well and they recoup 100% of it, while Idaho homeowners only get their royalties after that fact.)

It continues to be incredibly difficult to remain impartial to oil and gas development in Idaho when we’ve been continually taken advantage of in this process, receiving very little pertinent information, rarely getting answers to our questions, and quite literally being “toyed” with by Alta Mesa without any defense from the Idaho Department of Lands.  We’ve received little to no representation in this and as just an average family owning a home on smaller acreage (as are the majority of homeowners in this new spacing unit), we essentially have no say in what happens to the mineral rights that we own.  A local Representative has said repeatedly that Alta Mesa is speaking calculus while Idaho is still doing basic math.  This is true, but Alta Mesa keeps trying to tell us that 2+2 equals 5, and even in basic math we know that is not correct.

Unfortunately, the State of Idaho continues to disregard our concerns in favor of the out-of-state company who is trying to establish their industry within our residential areas.  (At a hearing in the past, there was a huge amount of contesting parties present, as well as a massive amount of emails and letters sent to the Chairman of the Resources and Environment, and he told us that he didn’t even read them because there were so many, nor did they allow most of the people to speak.  In other words, they aren’t even bothering to TRY and listen to our concerns.)  As IDL Director Schultz stated at that hearing, in order to make sense of Alta Mesa’s application and be able to have any ground for contesting it, he recommends hiring a lawyer.  That isn’t practical or even a possibility for many people!  There seems to be zero accountability.  

I hope this helps increase awareness about the current state of oil and gas development in our state.  There seems to be a trend that many people are completely unaware of what is happening until they find themselves in the middle of it, and if people can have a heads up before they get into that situation, perhaps eventually we can reign in this company from continually taking advantage of Idaho citizens and undercutting all the "average Joe" homeowners.  We don’t have to stop the industry, but there’s no reason they shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions, past, present and future, and be required to work WITH our communities instead of around us or against us.