Rural landowners, take note! Over the last few months we have been held hostage to what will ultimately be one of the worst environmental disasters in global history: The Gulf Oil Spill. The economic impact will likely be one hundred times worse than that portrayed by the media pundits. The spill could not have occurred at a worse time for our country, both economically and environmentally.
A direct result of the federal government’s moratorium on off-shore drilling, the natural gas industry is ramping up exploration and drilling rights for natural gas. As landowners wrestle to keep themselves economically afloat, natural gas companies are waving BIG checks in front of folks to “lease” gas drilling rights on their properties. The potential price tag for property owners who lease these rights is HUGE and irreversible. Natural gas exploration and extraction result in water and air pollution, and possible serious environmental damage.
To free and extract natural gas from shale and bedrock thousands of feet below ground, a process known as “hydraulic fracking” is done. It is the equivalent of creating a small earthquake at the bottom of a deep shaft. The explosion loosens the bedrock to allow for gas to escape. An estimated 2-7 million gallons of water mixed with fracking compounds are pumped into well heads. The chemicals used typically consist of hydrochloric acid, methanol, and glutaraldehyde, among others, many of which are listed by the EPA as neurotoxins. Once these chemicals enter deep water aquifers, they are trapped and remain there. If your domestic well head is contiguous to these exploration wells, your drinking water is permanently contaminated.
During the Bush administration, lobbying efforts resulted in the passage of a bill protecting and exempting the natural gas industry from the side effects of drilling, which had been covered under the Safe Water Drinking Act. Called the “Halliburton Loophole,” the exemption means the natural gas companies are now NOT responsible for damage resulting from natural gas drilling.
Depending on where you live and how much land you own, odds are you’ll be approached, sooner or later, with offers from natural gas drillers. Situated below a good portion of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, the Marcellus Shale Plate is estimated to hold enough natural gas to supply US needs for a 2-10 year period. In the grand scheme of things, this is just a drop in the bucket. With this region’s greater population density, the likelihood of contaminated wells increases with every new drilling project.
In the western US, where approximately two-thirds of the nation’s natural gas wells are currently located, domestic wells are generally significantly deeper than similar wells east of the Mississippi; the increased depth also increases the risk of contamination from the deep natural gas wells.
A new documentary, “GasLand,” portrays Josh Fox’s quest to get definitive answers after he was offered $100,000 for leasing the natural gas rights on his family property in northeast Pennsylvania. If you have been approached to lease your gas rights, or reside in an area where natural gas drilling is common, I recommend seeing this film. Do your homework before signing any lease!
Josh Nelson started Beaver River Associates in 1987 shifting his focus from livestock production to waste management and composting technology. He is a partner of AgriLab Technologies, LLP, specializing in heat recovery from aerobic composting and also develops and manufactures products for the horse and pet industry.