Judge: Idaho Department of Land, Oil and Gas Conservation Commission violated U.S. Constitution

This November 2015 photo shows gas well 1-17 which produces natural gas outside New Plymouth. Residents and mineral owners outside Fruitland were facing similar wells being drilled if they are integrated at the time of this photo.

PAYETTE COUNTY — A U.S. District Court judge has reaffirmed an August 2018 ruling that the State of Idaho violated the U.S. Constitution by allowing a private corporation to conduct its business without due process. The ruling on Friday clarifies that the state must reverse both “a spacing order, which set how many gas wells could be drilled in a particular area, and an integration order, which allowed private companies to drill for gas and oil even if landowners objected,” according to a news release on the ruling.

Last year’s ruling against Idaho Department of Lands and the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission stated that forced leases natural gas drilling on properties in Payette County would have to be vacated.

The forced leases were done through a process known as integration, which allows a company to take natural gas belonging to landowners who have not leased their mineral rights through a process known as forced pooling or deemed leasing.

The suit stemmed from Texas-based company, Alta Mesa, Inc. using the Oil and Gas Conservation Act to force Idahoans to sell natural gas under their land to Alta Mesa, even after those landowners had refused to sell.

Friday’s ruling reinforces the earlier ruling that Idaho’s system of forced pooling “violates due process,” according to Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability, which, along with two of its members, were plaintiffs in the suit.

The latest ruling was in response to the State of Idaho’s motion to alter the previous judgement.

“Judge B. Lynn Winmill denied the State’s Motion and ordered the state to vacate the orders which led to the lawsuit,” reads the release.

“This is a massive win for Idaho property rights,” said Shelly Brock, president of CAIA and one of the plaintiffs. “Until this case, the State was forcing landowners to give up their mineral rights against their will for a pittance and with no consideration for the profound risks their families and property would be exposed to. Equally concerning is the fact that they were being forced into contracts with a company that has been the subject of 2 class action lawsuits in the past 16 months and is on extremely shaky financial grounds.”

According to the plaintiff’s attorney James Piotrowski, “the current statute requires the terms to be ‘just and reasonable’ but that term, without more, is too vague to satisfy the requirements of due process.”

Friday’s ruling will lead to a new motion for an award of attorney fees to be paid by Idaho Department of Lands.

Per law, IDL and the oil and gas commission will have until March to decide whether to appeal the ruling.

“We sincerely hope the state doesn’t continue to drain taxpayer resources to prop up this floundering industry by filing an appeal on a case which has already been decided twice in favor of Idaho property owners,” Brock said.

A request for comment from officials in the Oil and Gas Division at the Idaho Department of Lands regarding the ruling was not returned by press time.

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