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July 15, 2009

 

Gas drilling forum educates landowners

Property owners urged to from coalitions to gain bargaining power in lease negotiations

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

County residents who live in areas where gas companies have an interest in drilling attended an informational seminar at the state Grange Headquarters Tuesday night, learning about soil protection and landowner coalitions.
The seminar was the third informational meeting sponsored this year by the county Soil and Water Conservation District. The district holds the seminars to inform the public and local officials about the topic of gas drilling.
Solon resident Trudy Wise said she has been approached by gas company representatives, known as landmen, several times and is surrounded by neighbors who have signed leases to allow gas drilling on their property.
But Wise is wary of the deal and the effects it could have on her property.
“Why haven’t our elected officials established land laws to help protect the landowner from these companies?” Wise asked after the meeting.
New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Agriculture Land Resource Specialist John Lacey urged landowners to know what is in their leases so the landowner can have control over what the gas company does on their property. He urged landowners to consider joining landowner coalitions, which are groups of landowners that, by joining together, have greater bargaining power when negotiating with gas companies.
Lacey gave a slide-show of the adverse impacts that installing a pipeline could have on a farmer’s land if it is not buried deeply enough and the soil is not restored in its proper layers to retain moisture.
Showing a picture of a ravaged corn field in upstate New York, Lacey said there was no moisture reserve in the soil after a pipe trench was dug improperly.
“The corn burned up. The solution is to start from scratch with complete land rehabilitation,” Lacey said.
Nick Schoonover spoke at the meeting as a member of the Tioga County Landowners Group, which formed in July 2008.
“We own small and large tracts and we cover 30,000 acres since January,” Schoonover said.
Schoonover said the mission of the group is to protect the mineral rights of the land in a fair and equitable way for the landowners involved. The group also helps people develop leases and gives negotiating strength to the landowner when dealing with the companies.
“(A coalition) works out the best terms to protect you and the property and the environment and maximizes bonus payments and royalties,” Schoonover said. Bonus payments are per-acre prices companies offer property owners for signing a lease. The landowner also gets a royalty payment, or share of the money from any of the gas or oil that is sold.
“It (gas drilling) is going to happen so we need to step up and manage it and not let it take us over,” Schoonover said.
Cuyler Town Board member Russel Smith said he attended the seminar because he wanted to learn as much as he could about the issue of gas drilling.
“Anything I learn and can bring back in the future is useful,” Smith said.
Smith added he liked the idea of forming a coalition.
“I wonder if maybe towns here could form a coalition or help this coalition as another entity,” Smith said. He said he would bring that idea up at a Cuyler Town Board meeting if he hears that landowners have been approached by landmen there.
Cortlandville resident Mary Beilby said she is also interested in the idea of forming a landowner coalition, saying she is concerned about the noise and traffic issues gas drilling activity would result in.
Beilby said she is also concerned about the lack of regulation on gathering lines that lead from gas wells to the transmission lines.
Referring to a slide from Lacey’s presentation, Beilby said she saw a picture of a pipe that was three inches below the surface.
“The heavy duty ... lines are governed by the public service commission,” Beilby said, saying she advocates for landowners finding ways of controlling gas companies’ activities through their leases or coalitions.
The next informational seminar will be July 28 and feature two speakers, environmental consultant, Mark P. Millspaugh P.E., and attorney Kimberly Shaw Rae.

 

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