PAYETTE COUNTY — As progress is made toward the approval of the drilling of a new oil and gas well near an existing one, a concerned citizen organization continues to make a case against it as presently planned.

In a letter to the Idaho Department of Lands dated Aug. 5, Shelley Brock, President of Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability stated that the proposed Barlow #2-14 oil and gas well project along the Payette River potentially violates Idaho Code by a long way.

“Snake River Oil and Gas is proposing drilling a second hydrocarbon well a mere 20 feet from the Barlow 1-14. In the new drilling application the Barlow 2-14 is classified as a ‘tight hole’. The industry defines a tight hole as “….a section of a well bore where drilling tools with large diameters face resistance. It is basically an open hole. Stabilizers, drill collars, drill pipe, tool joints or parts of a drill string face resistance when a driller drills through a tight hole”.

In the letter, Brock went on to state that containing leaks has long been a problem for the oil and gas industry:

“Statistics from the industry themselves show that as many as 6% of all oil and gas wells leak during their construction; that a far higher percentage leak within the first few years; and that over a period of decades virtually ALL of them will leak.”

James Piotrowski, attorney for the organization, outlined the legal reasons for denial of Snake River’s well permit application in a letter on behalf of Brock’s and a number of Fruitland residents. Following are samples of his input:

“While it may presently be unknown whether a Barlow 2-14 well will result in ‘waste’ in the sense of inefficient discharge, there is no doubt that it will result in waste within the functional meaning of the [Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission],” said Piotrowski in his letter. “Granting the present application would result in approving a second well within the same spacing unit, despite the fact that the existing well already reaches the exact same geologic structure which SROG wishes to reach with its proposed, new well. Granting the permit to drill would thus result in waste by allowing two wells in a spacing unit. In addition, it would create an express violation of the statute which the Commission and the Department are legally obligated to enforce.”

In a response to an inquiry by the Argus, Sharla Arledge, Public Information Officer for the Idaho Department of Lands, stated that while work is needed on Barlow 1-14, the well is otherwise in good shape.

“IDL staff were on site during the drilling of the Barlow 1-14. The well bore is stable and leak free. There is some additional remedial work required by the Department that must be completed before production begins. This involves adding a few feet of cement at the top of the well. Wells out there do need some remedial cement work. The wells don’t leak and are not flaring.”

Arledge said the application remains under review as of press time.

In response to Brock’s concerns, Richard Brown, CEO of Snake River Oil and Gas, reached out to the Argus by email on Aug. 7 to provide his take on the proposed project. He sought to clarify that the underground ‘take point’ of the project is what the state’s spacing requirement affects.

“Almost all states are like Idaho and have a required distance between these “take points,” said Brown. The Barlow 2-14 will be directionally drilled and the bottom hole and perforations will be well over 990 feet away from the bottom hole and perforations in the Barlow 1-14. The point of the separation requirement is so that each well produces efficiently. This is all available and discernible in the well permit applications on file with IDL.”

Snake River Oil and Gas is headquartered in Magnolia, Arkansas, while Brown lives in Blaine County, Idaho. Their New Plymouth field office is located at their Highway 30 plant.

The main reason for the surface drill pad being 20 feet from Barlow 1-14, according to Brown, is for efficiency of operations and to cut down on Snake River Oil and Gas’ overall surface footprint.

“We do not plan to drill this well at least until the first quarter of 2021,” Brown continued. “Mrs. Brock says she represents ‘Idahoans’ and implies that Fruitland and Payette County residents need her protection from an ‘industry which would put health, safety and water at risk.’ Idaho has some of the strictest and toughest oil and gas regulations in the country. We encourage everyone to look at the record. Our industry has been operating safely for over 12 years here in Idaho.”

Brown also said his company has over 1100 active leases in Payette County.

While the Department of Lands continues to review the application, safety is something Arledge said the Department of Lands remains fully committed to.

“The IDL takes the role of regulating Oil & Gas development very seriously, and places the protection of natural resources, as well as the correlative rights of mineral interest owners at the top of the list when evaluating permits to drill or modify a well.”

Brown said that his company strives to operate safely as it moves forward with this and other projects.

“SROG, like any industrial business, is subject to OHSA workplace requirements, and has emergency response plans in place with local first responders and the state homeland security agency.  Operators are also subject to regulation and oversight from DEQ and EPA. Again, the industry is heavily regulated.”

In closing her letter, Brock urged caution at the hands of the Department of Lands as they review the application.

“As you review this application for the Barlow 2-14 well, please scrutinize with profound care the long term costs to Idaho families, our rivers and lands versus the potential short term profits and lingering legacy of this out-of-state company.”

Corey Evan is a reporter at the Independent-Enterprise and Argus Observer. He can be reached at (208) 642-5258 or by emailing coreye@argusobserver.com. To comment on this story, go to www.argusobserver.com.

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