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Testimony on oil/gas bill: ‘We have no say in the distance that is from a home’

Twenty-five people have signed up to testify this afternoon on HB 464, the oil and gas drilling bill. Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said he and other members of the House Resources Committee "have gotten not dozens but hundreds of inquiries ... with concern over this legislation. Their main concern seems to be that if we're going to allow injection wells and fracking, that we're going to pollute the water system in the state, particularly culinary wells. What assurance can you give me to give these constituents that what we're doing here is not going to pollute our water system?" Suzi Budge, lobbyist for the Idaho Petroleum Council, said, "It's simply not accurate, on the injection well issue. ... The legislation itself does not really address the issues that you're being communicated with, with the exception of the line between local ordinances and the role of local government and the role of the state, and that's certainly what we have endeavored to work on for the last several months."

Kerry Ellen Elliott of the Idaho Association of Counties told the committee that her group has endorsed HB 464, but acknowledged that it's not unanimous. Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, noted that she's received letters from two Washington County commissioners opposing the bill - one of the two counties where the issue's in play.

Bob Barber of Weiser told the committee that Washington County has been working for months on an ordinance to regulate gas drilling in the county. He said he supports such development, but not without local regulation to protect local interests. "I again recognize that Payette and Washington County seem to be the only counties in our 44 that are really involved in this right now. Please don't take away our ability to determine what our citizens want within our boundaries."

Tony Edmundson of Weiser, a former county commissioner, city councilman and Planning & Zoning Commission chairman, said, "This particular piece of legislation is troubling for me, because the language is so vague, and it sets precedent in local land-use planning, sort of a hands-off on gas and oil. ... My concern is local land use and local control. ... The well will go in, but we have no say in the distance that is from a home or the next property owner."

Payette County Commissioner Larry Church told the lawmakers, "We don't have the financial or the expertise to police and regulate this." And IACI President Alex LaBeau endorsed the bill, saying of natural gas production, "It is an important resource for the energy security of this country."

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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