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Controversial oil/gas drilling bill passes Senate, heads to governor’s office

Controversial oil/gas drilling bill passes Senate, heads to governor’s office

Mitch Coffman
March 15, 2012
Mitch Coffman
March 15, 2012

A controversial oil and gas drilling bill that forbids cities and counties from enacting measures that would make it impossible to drill and specifies that a conditional use permit cannot be required for drilling passed the Idaho Senate Wednesday on a 24-10 vote.

However, the bill does state that companies are required to follow “reasonable local ordinance provisions” that are on the books for the sake of the health, safety and private property rights of residents.

House Bill 464 now goes to the governor’s office for his consideration.

Committees in both the House and Senate heard hours of testimony on the bill. During the Senate debate, much of the discussion focused on the lack of amendments added to the bill despite supporters of the legislation admitting that the bill is not “perfect,” according to one supporting senator.

Those opposing the legislation centered their remarks on local control and authority, making the point that cities and counties should have the major say in what development occurs in their areas and that HB 464 opens the door for the oil and gas industry to set up rigs and processing plants anywhere it chooses.

Those favoring it believe the state should have regulatory authority over an emerging industry so the same standards apply statewide and that oil and gas drilling will be an economic boon to the state.

Debate Wednesday lasted about 45 minutes on the floor, with even those in support of the bill admitting it is not a perfect piece of legislation. The bill had been sent to the amending order, but no amendments were made to the bill so it was presented in its original form on the floor.

The floor sponsor, Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, acknowledged the measure is not without some problems. “We don't have a perfect bill,” he said, “but I don't think we can agree on what the perfect bill is.”

Flaws or not, Tippets believes the bill is vital for the state. “I don't think it's an exaggeration to say this bill will determine whether or not we develop gas and oil resources over the next year. I think it's that critical,” he told fellow senators.

Tippets said the impact from the industry could be “significant” and bring in money and jobs to the state. He also said the landowners should be able to take advantage of the resources on their land. “Landowners have the right to have the resources under their property responsibly developed.”

Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, said he supported the legislation, but added lawmakers could have improved the bill. “I’m happy to support it. But I’m also convinced that we still could have done a little bit better. And certainly looking at a few options in the amending order would not have hurt us.”

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, explained her no vote during roll call, expressing her distaste for not attempting to make amendments to the bill. “In particular, I think our people at home deserved to have a conversation, and a say, and we didn’t allow for that. And by passing this bill I feel, therefore, we turned our backs on them. And that saddens me.”

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