Letters From the West

Idaho on the verge of becoming a natural gas producing state

Drilling on two petroleum wells north of New Plymouth is expected to begin “any day” and Idaho could begin natural gas production by the end of the year.

“There’s equipment on the site now,” said Suzanne Budge, executive director of the Idaho Petroleum Council.

Alta Mesa, a partner of Snake River Oil and Gas, has been working on permits for a seven to 10 mile pipeline that would connect existing and new wells in Payette County to the pipeline near Idaho Power’s Langley Gulch natural gas plant.

“We could turn gas on to serve consumers this year,” Budge said.

A gas flare during a test of a natural gas well near New Plymouth owned by Snake River Oil and Gas.

A gas flare during a test of a natural gas well near New Plymouth owned by Snake River Oil and Gas.

The Idaho Department of Lands approved two permits to Alta Mesa Services to drill June 11 and June 27. The agency is considering a third drilling permit.

Alta Mesa, part of Alta Mesa Holdings, of Houston is a partner of Snake River Oil and Gas that bought existing wells drilled by Bridge Resources near New Plymouth.

Bridge Resources discovered natural gas and condensate, a mix of petroleum liquids in 2010 in the so-called Willow Hamilton fields in Payette County. The condensate, which is nearly pure enough to use as jet fuel, is worth even more than the natural gas.

Condensate captured during testing earlier this year was sold to the refinery in Salt Lake, Budge said.

“That’s what makes this play go,” Budge said.

The Treasure Valley’s gas discovery in a sedimentary sand deposit and not shale, where drillers elsewhere have been using a process of horizontal hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” The controversial process that has open millions of acres of the nation to natural gas production will not be used here, Budge said.

Drillers will use well treatment, a long established process of sending liquids and sand down its well under high pressure to enhance gas flows.

The Idaho Legislature approved oil and gas rules in 2012 and this year changed the makeup from the Idaho Oil and Gas Commission from the state’s constitutional officers who make up the Land Board. The new panel, appointed earlier this week by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, includes members representing different stakeholders.

One is knowledgeable in oil and gas; one in geology; one in water; one private land or mineral owner in an area with oil and gas activity; and one private land owner without mineral rights. Members would serve four-year terms, initially staggered and shortened.

The Idaho Department of Lands remains the administrative agency responsible for supporting the commission’s work and implementing rules and statutes related to oil and gas exploration and production.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West