Natural Gas Leases/Hydraulic Fracturing: One Property Owner’s View

Thank you, “[Delaware] River Valley Resident” for grappling with the question, “What does stewardship of our lands and communities demand of us?” Although I disagree that “[gas] drilling [and hydraulic fracturing] are inevitable” or that their dangers and impacts can be mitigated, your question and profound determination to preserve and protect are what join us. Indeed, if drilling spreads inexorably, then your efforts to protect may be the last arrow in our quiver.

In part, I hope readers will respond with suggestions helpful to landowners who’ve been cut off like islands in the midst of leased properties. Thank you, Breathing Is Political, Liz Bucar)

(Dear  Readers and “River Valley Resident”:  In an effort  to provide a  community forum where divergent and frequently  noisy  views can be aired,  Breathing has  solicited articles from property owners who are considering signing   natural gas leases or who, after months of  deliberation, have completed the signing. There have been difficulties  and  I had to decide whether or not to publish an anonymous post.  In the end, I decided  a wide-ranging discussion of  the issues facing our communities is more critical  than identifying our author who fears for her job if her name is released.  I hope her obvious concern for the land and our cultures is sufficient to set minds at ease.  She’s known to me.  She’s not a figment.  She’s not greedy and she’s not oblivious to the dangers posed by drilling —  and cited to regularly  by Breathing.  Hers  is an important voice that sheds light — whether or not you agree with her conclusions.

For months,  the author researched, examined  and agonized.  Breathing is grateful that she chose  to speak in this forum despite her misgivings. Unhappily  — given the high passions on both sides of the discussion  —  being a kind of bridge in the middle can invite  vilification and  distrust from  those standing on the  opposite shores. Thank you,  “River Valley Resident”  for  grappling   with the question,  “What does stewardship of   our lands and communities demand of us?”   Although I disagree that “drilling is inevitable” or that its dangers and impacts can be mitigated,  your  question and profound determination to preserve and protect are what join  us.  Indeed, if drilling  spreads  inexorably,  then your efforts to protect may be the last arrow in our quiver.

In part, I hope readers will  respond with suggestions  helpful to landowners  who’ve been cut off   like islands in the midst of leased properties.   Thank you,   Liz)

*    *    *   *    *

I have spent months exploring the ramifications of drilling in the area. Unfortunately, I believe it is extremely likely to occur, so I have been trying to learn the dynamics of horizontal drilling and its potential to contaminate the aquifer. I have read numerous articles and finally found what I believe is a good representation of the process. The gas companies appear to make an extremely strong effort to isolate the aquifer from the fracking fluids. Please see this website for visualization:

Perhaps this is all hype by the gas companies, but if they do in fact follow this process it seems that the aquifer is isolated by steel piping encased in cement. Perhaps aquifer contamination is more likely related to the holding ponds where the backflow is stored as it is forced from the well; which brings up an interesting possibility. One. of the drilling companies, (which is one of Hess’s designated subcontractors for this area) is utilizing a patent pending process called “Ozonix”. It apparently removes all organic chemicals, particles, etc. from the flow back as well as nearly all the brine through reverse osmosis. This process can be read about at the following web site:

On a more personal level I have found myself in a situation where the majority of the landowners in my immediate area (across the road and next door) have signed leases. Personally, I do not want to see gas drilling in this area, but am somewhat resigned to the power that the Gas corporations wield and feel that it would be amazing if the gas development does not take place. As a result, I have chosen to try to protect my property. I joined [Northern Wayne Property Owners’ Association]  NWPOA a few years ago, because I felt it gave me a chance to do that and also because this group planned to work toward the most environmentally sound lease possible. I have also been a member of the UD Community for several years, and feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to receive information from the divergent viewpoints. As more information came out from both sources I became more and more confused. This caused me to undertake my own research into the fracking process and its potential for adverse environmental effects. Simultaneous to this, NWPOA came up with a lease agreement with Hess. I have not as yet signed that document. However, I did begin researching the drill company that would be working for Hess in my area. It is a company called Newfield and they are using the “Ozonix” process mentioned above in some of their other shale developments. My thought was to attempt to encourage Hess to have Newfield employ that technology here, as it appears to strongly mitigate a lot of the potentially detrimental effects of the frac process. Additionally, it allows the water to be reused at multiple sites, thus greatly reducing the amount of water needed from the Delaware or other sources, as well as reducing the truck traffic on the roads. Perhaps, I have been taken in by good PR, but I also believe it is in the Gas companies’ best interests to develop these wells as efficiently as possible. If they are drilling and allowing the gas to somehow escape into the aquifer then that is gas they can’t bring to market which spells a loss for them. I have been an environmentalist for well over 40 years and if I had a magic wand, I would surely make this all go away, although I do completely understand the local farmers’ support of this issue. I guess the bottom line for me is that I believe the gas development will occur and that the best approach is to do all within our power to make it happen in the most environmentally responsible way possible. This means supporting companies like Newfield and trying to have them employ the frac recycling process called “Ozonix”. It also means supporting legislation in Congress such as the “Frac Act” which requires companies to divulge their “formulas” for the fracking mud. The Clean Water Restoration Act also needs support to return some of the strength sapped from it, by our previous administration. Will I sign a lease with Hess…I honestly have not been able to decide as yet. I fear drilling around me, and with no lease, if there were any problems, I would be up against the Gas Company on my own. The lease ensures that they will mitigate any water contamination issues, or provide bottled water if necessary. Granted this is not a great solution, but it is probably better than trying to deal with it unassisted.

I know that there are many people like myself who are conflicted over this issue, and struggling with making the right decision. I could never refer to myself as “pro-drilling”. Perhaps, a more appropriate classification is “pro-preservation”. I would like to see this area remain as much like it is right now as possible. This may be a false hope, but I honestly believe that trying to influence the gas companies to use the very best practices possible here, is a more achievable goal than stopping the entire process. I would greatly appreciate comments, as I have been struggling with making a decision for a long time. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope that I have not inadvertently insulted anyone’s viewpoint. I am merely trying to illustrate what a lot of people are feeling.

October 7, 2009. Since writing the above comments, I have had numerous discussions with Gas Company representatives about exactly what signing a lease would mean. My first thought was to obtain a conservation easement or deed restriction on my property so that the only gas related activity that could take place would have to be subsurface. I was informed that they were not accepting properties with conservation easement unless they were large commercial properties where portions of the surface land are critical to continuing their businesses whatever they may be. I then discussed the amount of acreage I have with the gas company, its geography and location and they told me that it was highly unlikely that they would place a drill pad on a piece of property the size of mine, nor would they likely place a road there. However, they could not guarantee this. So, to sign I would have to accept the remote possibility of surface activity. This gave me a lot to think about. But, perhaps more important than that is what the gas companies do with the individual leases they own. As most people know there are at least 3 major players in the area: Chesapeake, Cabot and Hess. Although you may sign with any of these companies, it does not mean that they will be the company developing your land. In order to create a drilling unit, they need about 640 contiguous acres. In some cases, they may have this from large farms or adjoining properties that have signed. But they may also have an area they would like to develop where the mineral rights have been leased to different companies. The gas companies now trade leases to obtain the acreage they need for development. It’s just like Monopoly where you need all the cards in a block to build houses. So, Hess’s drilling company, Newfield, with the innovative and environmentally sensitive technology may have nothing to do with the development of gas on the land of Hess lease holder. The terms of the lease remain the same as far as per acre compensation, royalties, and environmental mitigation, if needed. But, you could sign with Hess and Newfield, and end up with Cabot and Halliburton. The initial signing deadline has come and gone. I may or may not be on a secondary list. I am not sure at this point, since I haven’t gotten any emails lately from the group.

Have I done the right thing, I honestly don’t know. I have turned down well over $25,000 in guaranteed lease payments, and the potential for royalties. If the area near me is made into a drill unit and all goes well and the water stays good and the roads are removed and replanted when the development is complete will I have regrets? If the area is developed and the aquifer is contaminated and I can’t sell my home and have to sue one of these companies for compensation will I have regrets? More importantly what would you do in my situation? I could probably still sign a lease…..should I? I would really appreciate it, if you could try to put yourself in my place and honestly consider what you might do. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

a river valley resident

(Tomorrow:  The National Council of Churches on the issue of drilling.)