Ordinance gets another look

The Fruitland City Council chambers were packed Monday for a second public hearing of the proposed ordinance government oil and gas development within the city.

More changes will be made to a proposed ordinance which defines the rules on oil and gas development and operations in the City of Fruitland after a second public hearing on Monday, requiring at least one more City Council session on the issue for fine-tuning.

The proposed document, ordinance No. 629, sets parameters on gas and oil operations. It cannot limit where those operations can be done but imposes setbacks.

City Attorney Stephanie Bonney said those operations cannot be zoned out of any area of the city. In addition, Fruitland can not impose anything stricter on air quality controls, but can pull any conditional use permits if problems arise.

One of the proposed changes, by Councilor Ed Pierson, is to require up to 2,000 feet for a setback from the property line for drilling operations from schools, medical facilities and churches. Under the latest draft of the ordinance being reviewed Tuesday, the setback for those structures had been the same as residences — 1,200 feet.

Another proposed change is the removal of any reference to occupied lots or structures, with council members noting that those places may be occupied in the future.

Pierson also wanted some conditions set for fences around any drilling sites in the city.

Use of chemicals

In addition, Pierson wants the ordinance to include the condition that the city be notified of any changes in chemicals used for extraction or post-extraction.

The ordinance would require the gas and oil companies keep the city apprised of the chemicals being used in both those processes, in addition to baseline testing of water to help determine whether water has been polluted in the future.

One of the concerns people at the hearing expressed during the hearing was about hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking. The process is often used in the extraction of oil and gas around the country.

However, Bob Hatfield, who has worked with Alta Mesa, the company developing oil and gas resources in Payette County, said fracking is not being used in the local areas.

It is vertical drilling, Hatfield said.

Monday night was not the first time industry sources have argued that injection wells are environmentally safe. They have previously pointed out that water is injected below the water table. They’ve also said the increased earthquake activity associated with injection wells in Oklahoma shouldn’t be a problem in Idaho, which has a more sandy geology as compared to Oklahoma’s more pervasive shale.

However, in areas with sandy geology, according to information found on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website “unless natural fractures are present, almost all tight sand reservoirs require hydraulic fracturing to release gas.”

The agency’s website further defines fracturing as the process of producing “fractures in the rock formation that stimulate the flow of natural gas or oil, increasing the volumes that can be recovered. Wells may be drilled vertically hundreds to thousands of feet below the land surface and may include horizontal or directional sections extending thousands of feet,” according to information found on its website.

“I think they [Alta Mesa] have done one of the best jobs in protecting the environment,” Hatfield said, adding that he has seen no problems.

Stakeholder:

Development comes with ‘adverse effects’

People attending the hearing came from around the valley, with some coming from as far as Boise to testify.

Dr. Brent Mathieu, of Boise, said he has seen the benefits of the petroleum industry. He inherited mineral rights from his family’s farm and has been receiving oil and gas royalties for more than 10 years. Mathieu also has siblings who are also receiving royalties.

“I am a stakeholder, I use natural gas to heat my home and cook,” he said.

However, Mathieu said, those mineral rights do not cover the costs of the adverse affects of oil and gas development.

Those adverse effects include odors, noise and light pollution, he said.

“It has adverse effects on people’s health, especially respiratory disease and increases a risk of cancer. I have cancer.” Mathieu said.

“I have toured drilling pads and seen how it changes the land and people. Where I once walked fields and pastures as a youth, there are barren gravel pads, and rusting, leaking equipment and pollution,” he said.

Mathieu urged the council to protect people and property rights, as most of the profit will be leaving the community with the oil and gas companies. He also supports maximum setbacks. Most of the people testifying echoed Mathieu’s comments about protecting he residents of the community.

Marc McCord, director of FracDallas, said there were four things that needed to be included in the ordinance.

First, he said, water testing should be done by the oil drillers. In addition, he said, baseline testing needs to be required; tracers needed to be used to help determine the source of leaks; and remote or automatic shut-off valves should be in place to help determine the source of leaks.

Mel Person, of Fruitland, said the City Council should be as strict as it needs to be to protect people and companies should be willing to meet the city’s standards if they want to work in the city.

Councilor Stuart Grimes recommended that if there is a leak of chemical from a pipe or other device at a facility that is repaired that a “safe to return to service” order be required before operations can be restarted.

Mayor Brian Howell, and other council members said of some of those items such as baseline water testing and automatic shut-off valves were already in the ordinance.

During public comments the council was also thanked for its work on the ordinance and for listening to the public.

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Larry Meyer is a reporter for the Argus Observer.

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