Bridge Under Troubled Waters: Payette County Natural Gas Company Faces Uncertain Future 

Drilling into the company that hopes to bring the natural gas industry to Idaho

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A Failure to Communicate

Justin Hayes, program director of the Idaho Conservation League, hasn't had the most effective communications with Bridge.

Hayes recalled his first contact with Bridge officials when he called its Colorado office in January.

"I spoke to their [then] vice president Tom Stewart," said Hayes. "I said, 'Hey, we would like to hear more about your company and what your plans are for Idaho.' But it was kind of a stilted conversation. He told me that I needed to talk to their consultants. I asked him if that's what he really wanted--for our relationship to be with consultants as opposed to with his company directly, and he said 'Yes.' I thought that was an inauspicious beginning to what has turned out to be a not very good relationship."

For the past 15 months, BW hasn't had much luck making direct contact with Bridge officials either, but it's not for a lack of effort. In July 2010, BW asked then-CEO Ed Davies about his company's Idaho operations.

"I can only refer you to our press releases," Davies told BW. "These are very carefully edited, and that's all I can say."

During the past year, BW made more than a dozen requests for interviews with then-Exploration Manager Kim Parsons but to no avail. BW also made repeated requests to talk with any new company spokesperson since the Sept. 20 resignations of Davies, Parsons and Stewart. As of press time, Bridge officials were unavailable for comment.

It's not that Bridge officials have been absent from Idaho--they have regularly attended meetings of the Payette County Planning and Zoning Commission and meetings of the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in Boise.

The Oil and Gas Commission--comprised of Idaho's five statewide elected officers--hadn't met in nearly 20 years before convening in March. The ever-increasing interest in Bridge's operations prompted a standing-room-only gathering. The first order of business was simple: get some rules on the books to oversee natural-gas exploration, with particular emphasis on treatments such as fracking, the controversial method of injecting high-pressured liquids and solids into wells to enhance gas flows. The commission ordered a detailed rule-making process to begin at once (see "Political Positioning," Page 15). In the meantime, the commission adopted temporary rules, using Wyoming's regulations as a base model. The commission also approved Bridge's request to drill more in less space. Idaho code had previously restricted one well per 640 acres, but by unanimous vote, the commission agreed to permit one well per 160 acres, or approximately four wells per square mile.

When the meeting adjourned, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, the commission's chairman, approached Hayes.

"The governor came up to me, shook my hand and said 'We need you to keep an eye on these guys.'"

But while Bridge's competitors aren't publicly anxious to throw the troubled company under the bus, Hayes isn't convinced that they're not Bridge's biggest fans either.

"My sense is that the Idaho Petroleum Council was created by entities that had concerns for their industry," he said. "I'm not sure that they necessarily felt that it was a good thing to have Bridge be the face of their industry right now." :

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