Interesting to see your article on fracking (“Fracking controversy heats up with well water contamination,” pg. 5, Jan. 13, issue 15). Although it has been going on longer in the West, the Marcellus area, where I live and produce feeder calves, is by far most active now.
Opponents are said to be “environmentalists” for several reasons. They had organizations in existence before fracking came along, they are articulate, and in the prevailing economic climate they already have opposition. The real loser in fracking is the land owner and the rural residents, who are unorganized, inarticulate and largely unknown. It is almost impossible to get a word of complaint about property loss in the news. In my case one well on my 500 acres would cost me about one-third my land value and one-third to one-half production income due to dust, noise, and light for years.
This is due to the 12-15 acres of land taken for a well pad, right-of-way from the public road to the drilling site, right-of-way for the pipeline connecting to the transmission through hardwood forest, drainage coming off these in times of storm or protracted rain. Each also requires 3-5 acres elsewhere for transmission lines, pump stations-liquid separation, work yards, disposal wells, and sand mining in Wisconsin or Minnesota. Typically there is one drill pad for each square mile.
Although dust, noise, and light are several weeks for each well, up to 12 wells may be drilled on each pad at intervals over several years. Essentially this is a subsidy to the industry from the land owner. If the land owner is paid royalty for the gas, damage is not recognized, it is simply ignored.
If the royalty owner does not own the land (much of the royalty here, was “separated” in the first oil boom, 100 years ago), the land owner may be paid for damages, either some set fee for all, or on a basis set by an in-house appraiser, typically less than $2,000.
Fracking is essentially a heavy industry spread over the landscape. By federal law it is exempt from many protections afforded citizens from other industries. There is a pollution problem in local areas near facilities and also the aggregated effect of many facilities over large areas. The very small landowner such as rural residents who have a house and lot are most vulnerable; it may take all they have. There is some recognition of well water lost or polluted, but it gets little public attention. One organization in Pennsylvania has over 1,200 people listed who have health effects from fracking. Dead animals are sometimes paid for, but sick ones are ignored. Game and fish groups oppose fracking. Part of my loss is that about one eighth the income from my land is hunting rights.
The environmental groups have a few paid employees, and that comparable to a rural minister. Most of the public opposition comes from unpaid, parttime rural people. The fracking interests, on the other hand, have battalions of well-paid publicists and lobbyists. The companies hire battalions of lawyers, too, and some companies sue aggressively.
Even if you get the royalty, it is soon gone, dropping like a rock after the first year. The wells are not bonded adequately, so they may never be plugged. Most states have laws that allow the well owner to procrastinate indefinitely beyond the time the well could pay for plugging.
“A word to the wise is sufficient.” You do not want fracking on your property. — S. Thomas Bond, West Virginian landowner and stockman