Idaho's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission gave its blessing this morning to new rules overseeing natural gas exploration, but not before Lt. Gov. Brad Little, sitting in for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, recused himself, saying that he was in negotiations to sign a contract which could allow gas drilling on his land.
The proposed rules, formally known as Idaho Administrative Procedure Act 20.07.02 were hammered out in a summer-long marathon of negotiations, managed by the Idaho Department of Lands.
"These new rules have clearly piqued the interest of quite a few folks," said Little, looking out at the standing-room-only meeting. "I have two full sign-up sheets of people who want to testify."
Before the public weighed in, Eric Wilson, minerals program manager for the DOL, briefed the commissioners (Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, State Controller Donna Jones and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna) on some of the highlights of the 43-page rules.
"Our section on hydrualic fracturing now requires disclosure of all substances used for well treatments," said Wilson. "We're also requiring a fresh water protection plan and pressure tests prior to any hydraulic fracturing."
So-called "fracking" was a concern for a number of citizens who testified at this morning's session.
"The era of clean energy is upon us," said Boise resident Britt Nelson. "But let's not rush into things by injecting poisons into the ground."
Justin Hayes, program director for the Idaho Conservation League, told commissioners that he was representing 20,000 supporters from across Idaho in calling for tighter restrictions on fracking.
"We once again urge you to ban the use of any carcinogenic chemicals in fracking fluids," said Hayes.
Ultimately, commissioners opted to recommend the rules as-presented.
Little had a final question for Wilson in regard to the possibility of Idaho's vulnerability if a gas exploration company would fail. While he didn't mention any company by name, everyone in the room was well aware of Bridge Resources, the financially troubled company which recently put its Idaho assets for sale after drilling in Payette County, promising scores of jobs.
"These rules don't touch anything like bankruptcy," said Wilson. "I don't know how Idaho would be protected as a secure creditor."
Before the unanimous vote, Ysursa had a word of caution.
"We'll be watching," said the secretary of state. "And citizens should be out there watching too. Nothing is more precious than our water resources, and this is a work in progress."
The commission sent the rules to be considered by the 2012 Idaho Legislature. The rules could become law as early as March or April 2012.