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Oil/gas bill passes Senate committee following acrimonious testimony

Oil/gas bill passes Senate committee following acrimonious testimony

Mitch Coffman
March 3, 2012
Mitch Coffman
March 3, 2012

Multiple days. Hours of testimony. Finally a decision.

On Friday, the Senate Resources and Environment Committee passed House Bill 464 allowing more state control than county control for oil and gas well siting. The vote was 6-3.

The bill in part came before the Legislature due to some oil and gas companies complaining that rules passed in Washington County were too restrictive and that the state should have purview over management of oil and gas reserves.

HB 464 forbids cities and counties from enacting measures that would make it impossible to drill and it specifies that a conditional use permit cannot be required for drilling. 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.

Due to the number of people signed up to testify, the committee chairman, Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, set a time limit of two minutes per testimony, though Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, managed to find a loophole in the chairman’s decision by simply asking several testifiers if they had more to say.

Although the testimony on the second day of the hearing took 3.5 hours, reasoning for or against the bill was similar, though those against the bill far outnumbered those in support of it.

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.

Tony Poinelli, deputy director for the Idaho Association of Counties, read a letter from the president of the association in support of the bill, then answered questions.

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, had several questions for Poinelli, saying its position on the bill was “as clear as mud.” Cameron specifically asked Poinelli about the language in the bill and if the time allotted (21 days) to make a decision on a location for a well was enough, which was an issue brought up frequently during testimony.

Poinelli said, “I think the 21 days was a reasonable time frame that all parties agreed to. And we tried to run it past, you know, our commissioners and other members of the committee. So, they felt it could be done.”

Those opposed to the bill said that the timetable was not long enough, and wanted more local control. Most people also said that with all of the testimony against the bill, legislators should be listening to them instead of the oil companies.

One such testifier didn’t mince words with her feelings toward legislators from either the Senate or the House.

Tina Fisher, who said she lives in a county where there are gas reserves, took her two minutes and pelted legislators on everything from ethics to listening to their constituents. She said representatives of the oil and gas industry were given unlimited time to talk, but “we as citizens are left with two minutes.”

She also complained that Rep. John Stevenson, R-Rupert, chairman of the House Resources and Conservation Committee, reprimanded her “for what he implied was a suggestion of impropriety concerning the lure of big money and making decisions that are right for your constituents.”

Fisher said her point is that financial contributions are a matter of record and, “I know that the natural gas industry has made campaign contributions to Idaho politicians, including all of my District 9 representatives. Unfortunately for most of us, we can’t afford large campaign contributions and we are our own lobbyist.”

The bill now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

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