FRUITLAND — Four Fruitland landowners are named alongside Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday against Idaho officials, including the director of Idaho Department of Lands and members of the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The suit claims those officials violated the Constitutional rights of the plaintiffs’ — and hundreds of other Idaho residents — by forcing them to sell their mineral rights against their will to oil and gas companies.
This was done through a process known as integration. In this process, owners who have not leased their mineral rights are often forced to lease them to an oil and gas company so it can drill for resources.
According to the suit, those companies that applied for those Fruitland properties to be integrated into its oil and gas drilling units are “AM Idaho LLC and Alta Mesa Services, LP.”
In Idaho these units are 640 acres, often having multiple property owners.
Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability, a nonprofit entity, is representing members whose property “was subject to the recent application for spacing and integration orders.” This includes Fruitland landowners Charlene Quade, Rachel Holtry, and Brittany and Cristian Sandoval.
The suit claims the property owners “objected to the application,” and participating in hearings held by Thomas M. Schultz, director, Idaho Department of Lands, who is being is sued in that capacity.
Schultz also serves as the secretary of the Oil and Gas Commission.
Other defendants are also commission members, who are being sued in their official roles. Those individuals are Chris Beck, Margaret Chipman, Sid Cellan, Jim Classen and Ken Smith.
Schultz, according to the suit, “refused to allow the landowners to challenge the application for pooling, did not correspond to any established market price for the resource, and did not comply with Idaho statutes.”
The defendants “compelled landowners to ‘pool’ their natural gas resources and allow a private corporation to drill for, capture and sell their valuable assets even though the landowners did not wish to sell, at prices they did not agree to, and without providing them adequate due process of the law,” according to a news release from the nonprofit.
Landowners’ mineral rights are a property rights thus federal and state law require they be taken through due process, according to the release.
Lawyer James Piotrowski said, “In Idaho, we believe a person’s property is theirs to do with as they please, within the limits of the law. This case is about protecting everyone’s right to control what happens to their own land.”
The suit aims to bar the defendants from “rendering similar orders in the future without providing protections required by the United States Constitution.”
In November of 2016, Alta Mesa applied for spacing and integration orders “concerning a potential pool of natural gas” beneath land in Fruitland.
In its application, Alta Mesa proposed integrating uncommitted owners in three spacing units in the Fruitland area.
The City of Fruitland is among scores of other Fruitland area property owners included in Alta Mesa Idaho’s latest application to pool uncommitted mineral rights.
The city’s drinking water plant and part of the city’s old wastewater treatment system are both on ground covered by the oil and gas development firm’s integration proposal.