Fruitland’s city ordinance on oil and gas drilling likely won’t be applied by Payette County in the city’s impact area, which means drilling could take place much closer to some in-city properties than would otherwise be allowed.

The difference between the county’s existing 300-foot setback requirement and the 1,200-foot residential setback the City of Fruitland established in an ordinance the city passed last year cannot be resolved in the city’s favor, Payette County Commissioner Marc Shigeta said last week.

Shigeta offered that view of the regulatory landscape during a Feb. 7 town hall meeting led by Mick Thomas, administrator of the Oil and Gas Division of the Idaho Department of Lands. Shigeta serves as vice-chairman of the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

The town hall meeting, held at the Payette County Courthouse, drew perhaps the lightest turnout in the series of such informational gatherings that Thomas has been scheduling every quarter in Payette. Several of the local residents who attended were nonetheless keenly interested in what Thomas and other oil and gas officials had to say.

One audience member, a resident of Fruitland’s impact area, posed the question about conflicting ordinances.

In 2018, Fruitland officials informally suggested that Payette County officials should consider applying the provisions of Fruitland’s drilling ordinance to regulation of gas and oil operations sited within the impact area. Short of changing the county’s own gas and oil ordinance, which was passed a few years before Fruitland’s, the county apparently cannot apply the city’s stricter setbacks and other regulations which are only in the city ordinance.

Thomas, who emphasized that his job and the job of the Oil and Gas Division doesn’t include settling disputes about local land use regulations, provided an explanation of the city’s impact area dilemma anyway. The town hall discussion focused on a hypothetical situation involving a drill site within the impact area and closer than 1,200 feet from one or more residences in the city.

Thomas said applying the city setback outside the city limits wouldn’t work because the people in the impact area effectively would have no role in that decision.

“What is at issue here is, these people out here [in the impact area] didn’t get to vote in the city’s impact zone [formation], setback or anything like that. ….And so it would be really hard for someone to enforce an impact zone into that area where someone’s due process was violated and they weren’t even allowed to vote — taxation without representation. That’s my opinion,” Thomas said.

Shigeta, who agreed with Thomas, added that the view is consistent with court rulings.

“The city has police power within its incorporated city limits. …. There have been two or three Supreme Court cases saying, they tell the counties, you cannot relinquish your citizens’ rights [to] the city,” Shigeta said.

“We try to say, no, they’re county citizens, and so they’re under our jurisdiction,” Shigeta said. “We’re arguing with the City of Fruitland right now because they would like us to go along with them and adopt their setbacks. And we won’t do it. I mean our setbacks are three-hundred feet, and they want twelve-hundred. Eagle wants fifteen-hundred feet. And so if you double that, you’ve got to have a forty-acre piece or something, even to get a well put on. So we’re sensitive to that.”

“The county would have a big lawsuit over it,” Shigeta told the Fruitland area resident who raised the question.

Thomas reminded the audience that Shigeta was speaking at that juncture as a county official.

“Remember the [Oil and Gas Conservation] Commission really is a regulatory body and we don’t get into the surface stuff or that, we just don’t. He’s speaking as a county commissioner now, not as an OGCC guy,” Thomas said.

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