Suit on forced pooling of mineral rights remains in background

Mick Thomas, administrator of the Oil and Gas Division at the Idaho Department of Lands, uses an easel-mounted whiteboard to illustrate a point about mineral rights integration during a Feb. 7 town hall meeting at the Payette County Courthouse.

A 2017 lawsuit challenging Idaho gas and oil regulators’ standard for approving forced pooling of mineral rights hasn’t had any impact on operations while the litigation has proceeded, says the state’s regulatory chief for oil and gas.

Mick Thomas, administrator of the Oil and Gas Division at the Idaho Department of Lands, offered that assessment in response to a question at a Feb. 7 town hall meeting on oil gas at the Payette County Courthouse.

On Feb. 1, U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill denied a motion from the State of Idaho to revise Winmill’s ruling last August requiring the state to vacate an integration (forced pooling) order in Fruitland. Before it could issue a new integration order, the state would have to hold a new hearing with clearer criteria for determining whether the terms were fair to non-consenting mineral rights owners.

“I can say that the operations that we do, regulatory-wise, hasn’t changed,” Thomas said of the ongoing legislation’s possible effects, and he isn’t aware of any impact on producer activities either.

“The operator put in a couple of wells last fall, last summer — the Barlow, the Fallon well — and those wells are on hold waiting on infrastructure,” Thomas said. “The biggest impact on the development of that infrastructure has been, it’s been winter, so it’s a logistical thing trying to get whatever they’re going to do there done, so they can connect those wells with the gathering facility.”

He added, “This litigation hasn’t impacted their operational plans. I’m not in the boardroom, but I haven’t got wind of it.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include several Fruitland residents whose mineral rights were forcibly pooled in the contested integration order, and Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability.

Thomas said state officials are yet to decide what their next course will be following the federal judge’s recent affirmation of the August ruling.

“Winmill’s latest response is going to be discussed between the commission (Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) and the AG’s (Idaho Attorney General’s) office,” Thomas said. “As far as what are their plans, what kind of decisions they’re going to make, they haven’t even had that discussion yet.”

Thomas, who has been administrator of the Oil and Gas Division for a little under two years, has held several town hall meetings in Payette County during his tenure. He said he plans to continue scheduling them on a quarterly basis. In addition to Thomas, officials on hand at Thursday’s town hall included Dave Schwartz, the division’s inspector, and Marc Shigeta, a Payette County commissioner who serves as vice-chairman of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

A link to documents about the case, CAIA v. Schultz, is offered on the commission’s web page at ogcc.idaho.gov.

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