- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 5, 2017

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The final three members of the new Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission have been named as the state makes changes to how it regulates the industry.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter earlier this week appointed geologist Renee Breedlovestrout of the University of Idaho and Gem County landowner and petroleum engineer Kevin Dickey.

Petroleum exploration geologist Jim Classen, who was on the previous commission, was also named to the new commission.

“I am pleased to be able to continue to help the state adapt appropriate procedures for the oil and gas industry,” Classen said Wednesday.

The five-member commission also includes Payette County Commissioner Marc Shigeta and Idaho Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz, who served as secretary for the last commission.

The new commission that is scheduled to meet in August replaces mostly citizen commissioners with three industry experts, a county commissioner and the director of the Idaho Department of Lands.

“We’re looking forward to getting this commission trained and handling whatever is ahead of them in the future,” Schultz said.

The Department of Lands itself is also being beefed up with three new full-time staff members dedicated to oil and gas. The agency announced Monday the hiring of Mick Thomas as the administrator for the Oil and Gas Division within the Department of Lands.

Thomas, most recently the senior geologist and head of mineral resources at the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, will also serve as secretary to the new commission.

“Having someone who is skilled and knowledgeable in the field will definitely help the agency,” Schultz said.

The appointments and new hires follow efforts by lawmakers at this year’s legislative session to improve oversight of the industry as expected windfalls of oil and gas money to state coffers and landowners have failed to happen despite several years of production. Severance taxes on reported production have never matched Idaho’s cost to regulate the industry.

Idaho has a long history of oil and gas exploration starting in the early 1900s, but it was Texas-based Alta Mesa using new technologies that made Idaho an oil and gas producing state. The company has spent more than $160 million finding reserves to tap and building infrastructure, but has also at times expressed frustration as Idaho officials have tried to find the best regulatory plan.

John Foster, spokesman for Alta Mesa, said the state adding industry experts was good as long as it led to results.

“The state’s metric for success needs to change from how many regulations have been passed to how many new wells have been drilled,” he said.

Lawmakers earlier this year also enacted statutes for the industry that will require Alta Mesa, the state’s lone producer, to reveal more information about its wells and business operations, including information on royalty payments to mineral rights owners.

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