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Environment | Energy

Idaho Gas Drilling: New Activity Raises Community Concerns

A public notice tacked to a power pole near a New Plymouth, Idaho home serves as a sign of recent gas drilling in Payette County.

A public notice tacked to a power pole near a New Plymouth, Idaho home serves as a sign of recent gas drilling in Payette County.

Aaron Kunz

Bridge Energy is the first company to drill in Idaho during the current wave of gas exploration. It is concentrating its efforts in Payette County.

This is high desert land covered in corn, wheat and barley that rolls along as far as the eye can see. This is also where seven of Bridge Energy’s wells are ready to produce once a pipeline and processing facility come on line.

Travis Fischer lives in New Plymouth, next to a plot of land where Bridge Energy wants to build that processing facility. It would dehydrate the raw gas that comes out of the ground and turn it into a commercially usable form.

Fischer is concerned how noisy that facility would be. He claims the sound levels would be about 45 decibels. That’s as loud as a refrigerator’s hum, according to the National Institutes of Health. Fischer thinks it would be louder than that.

“If you could imagine being a half mile away or even on the outside of the berm and trying to sleep with somebody talking in your ear…that would be kind of difficult,” he says.

Michael Dalton also owns land in Payette County. He generally supports the exploration of natural gas — but not without some rules to protect his home, family and water.

“I’m not against the exploration of natural gas at all, it just has to be controlled,” he says.

Bridge Energy says the way it drills is different from the more controversial methods used elsewhere. Bridge’s president Ed Davies says his company will do hydraulic fracturing to get to the natural gas. But on a much smaller scale than in other parts of the country. The solution it plans to pump into the ground will primarily be food-grade chemicals, stuff like vinegar found at the grocery store.

More in This Report

  • An overview of Northwest gas drilling, with video, audio, photos and an interactive map.

  • A closer look at gas well activity in Oregon and Washington.

Dalton says he has no problem with that. But he is concerned the company could change its mind down the road — and that there are no regulations in place to stop Bridge or any company from using potentially harmful chemicals to frack.

Fracking regulations are being drafted by the State of Idaho. Justin Hayes is the program director at the Idaho Conservation League. He says lawmakers could take up those rules in 2012, giving Idaho a blueprint for the natural gas industry. He hopes Idaho leaders can replicate other states’ successes and avoid their mistakes.

“So if there is some aspects to a rule in Colorado that are good, we should be shameless in stealing the good parts of their rule,” Hayes says. “But similarly if there are bad parts of a rule in, say Wyoming, we shouldn’t adopt the bad parts of those states rules, either.”

Rob Dickerson is planning and zoning administrator for Washington County, where residents have expressed concern about gas drilling in neighboring Payette County. Dickerson is working on an ordinance to guide zoning changes when commissioners are petitioned by industrial companies.

“We don’t want to be here two years from now saying we had an opportunity to do the right thing and we just sat and did nothing,” he says.

Dickerson says a draft of their new ordinance could be discussed in August. One key rule demands companies like Bridge purchase bonds to help pay for cleanup at the end of production and any accidents that might happen.

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