New Idaho lands director has experience getting gas money for schools

The new Idaho Department of Lands director Thomas Schultz is not an Idaho insider and the Land Board thought that was good.

Every Lands director for more than a generation has come from within the agency that is responsible for managing 2.5 million acres of land to generate the maximum long term return for Idaho’s schools. They have been foresters and since much of the land was forest it made sense. Schultz has the forestry background and experience running Montana’s Trust Land Management Division.

Tom Schultz

Tom Schultz
But the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation also has 6.3 million acres of state-owned mineral estate. That includes oil and gas, a resource Idaho in only beginning to manage.

Schultz brings skills from his Montana job, said state schools chief Tom Luna, “to bring it to the next level.”

The Lands Department is just completing negotiated rulemaking for natural gas drilling. With Bridge Resources pushing to develop wells on state leases, Schultz will have to play a critical role in helping the state establish its regulatory scheme.

“We hit one gas well that is 4.2 million cubic feet a day and has a lot of other things that have to be considered,” Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said. “How you manage that whole process, I think it is a new dimension that we have to consider.”

There is no need to reinvent the wheel, said Suzanne Budge, a consultant and lobbyist who is working on setting up a state oil and gas industry council. Montana’s program is much like other surrounding states.

Their board of oil and gas conservation requires three members from the industry and three members from landowners and a lawyer. Right now Idaho’s Oil and Gas Conservation Board is its land board including Luna, Gov. Butch Otter, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, and State Controller Donna Jones.

Between 2005 and 2006 oil and gas revenues generated from Montana's state trust lands increased by more than 200 percent or $20 million. This growth was due in part to prices and the new fracking technology.

But Montana has in place a tax, leasing and rental system that works. Schultz can bring his experience there to ensure Idaho gets its share of the natural gas money found here.

Good for him then.

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