Idaho homeowners fight Texas company over natural gas well

By Keith Ridler, Associated Press

A group of southwestern Idaho homeowners who say their mineral rights are being taken away is fighting a Texas company that is asking Idaho officials to settle the matter so a natural gas well can be drilled.

 

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A group of southwestern Idaho homeowners who say their mineral rights are being taken away is fighting a Texas company that is asking Idaho officials to settle the matter so a natural gas well can be drilled.

An attorney representing five homeowners in a subdivision near Fruitland told Idaho Department of Lands officials Wednesday that the amount of money the homeowners will receive if Houston-based Alta Mesa puts in a well is a bad deal for the homeowners.

"Forcing my clients to sell their mineral rights when nobody knows what they're worth is not just and reasonable," attorney James Piotrowski said.

The process for such impasses is called integration, and in Idaho can begin when owners with at least 55 percent of the mineral rights in an area agree to lease.

State lawmakers in recent years have approved and altered the process that's intended to prevent a minority of mineral rights owners in an area from stopping natural gas or oil production, which can generate revenue for the state.

In the area being contested by the homeowners, Alta Mesa in its application says it has leases for at least 66 percent in the proposed 640-acre area just across the Snake River from Oregon.

Michael Christian, an attorney for Alta Mesa, said recent signings pushed that past 70 percent. He also reminded state officials during the hearing that assessing the validity of the statutes passed by Idaho lawmakers concerning natural gas and oil was outside the scope of their authority.

Piotrowski "successfully turned the hearing from an administrative proceeding into a political show about the evils, or claimed evils, of oil and gas drilling," he told state officials. After the meeting he said he was confident Alta Mesa in its application met the requirements for integration to take place.

Several mineral rights owners spoke at the meeting.

"There was a man came to the door and asked me to sign a paper," said James Dille, who refused out of concern his $240,000 home on about half an acre could be devalued if a natural gas well went in somewhere on the 640 acres.

Piotrowski listed other concerns that included contaminated water, earthquakes and noise, arguing they had to be considered in what is fair in a lease offer.

But Christian noted those concerns were outside the scope of the hearing.

Hearings officer Kelly Williams on several occasions asked participants and audience members to remain civil during the hearing that went long and was extended into Thursday. A decision by state officials is required within a month after it ends.

David Smith, a geologist and vice president of exploration for Alta Mesa, said during a break in the meeting that the natural gas the company hopes to tap is from organic matter that accumulated at the bottom of a lake or series of lakes that formed in the area from 5 to 20 million years ago.

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