What’s it going to take to wake people up? This is a question that many fractivists ask. Typically the answer has been when there is a huge incident.
In the past I’ve agreed with that. However, I no longer feel that something horrific has to happen. We’ve seen the horrors. We’ve read about people and communities who have suffered, are suffering from any number of horrific events. Instead of taking action to prevent it from happening again, we see corporate interests and elected officials promoting the exact opposite.
Money. Lots and lots of money.
A 2011 article praises the how well Bradford County, PA is doing with the natural gas industry:
“Chesapeake’s footprint in Bradford County is substantial: it has permits to drill in a third of the county’s 51 municipalities. A subsidiary, Nomac Drilling LLC, is building a dormitory-style residence for 180 workers in Athens Twp. In the past two years, the company has paid more than $700 million to landowners in leases and royalties. And it has made over $70 million in payments to Pennsylvania contractors this year.”
NOT OUR JOB
In April of 2011, Bradford County Commissioners met with local residents who have had their water contaminated by drilling. Concerns also included traffic congestion, high rents and other problems related to the “gas boom”.
Diane Siegmund, from Towanda in Bradford County said she believed the number of contaminated wells is at least 70, based on her conversations with people who had contamination problems. She said the number also reflected the number of contamination sites that had been placed on a map, which was given to a Time magazine reporter who had visited the county a few weeks ago.
Siegmund suggested that a government-sponsored website be created where Bradford County residents would be able to report their contamination problems.
After the meeting, she said the intent of the website would be to document the extent of contamination problems in the county.
At the meeting, McLinko agreed that such a site should be established.
“We have to find out where the affected wells are, and we’ll go and help these people,” McLinko said.
Doug McLinko is Chairman of the Bradford County Commission.
Siegmund’s suggestion was simple. Have a website or helpline where people could obtain information without fear of retribution from the natural gas corporations. The Bradford County Commissioners, at that time, seemed to be in favor of such a proposal.
At their July 21st meeting the Bradford County commissioners withdrew their willingness to support the development of a community phone-in service — a “public safety hotline”– for reporting of incidents of Bradford County water contamination
Siegmund continues and states the reason given to her why Bradford County Commissioners reversed themselves:
Yesterday, the Commissioners informed me that they were not interested in getting involved in this project. “It’s not our job.”
Unfortunately, it seems it depends on how you define environment.
PROFITS OR PEOPLE?
Elected officials, heads of agencies, and the fossil fuel industry love to appear as being “environmental friendly”. Photo ops and other advertising often omit the cans of greenwash paint in the background. Greenwash is a term applied to industries and their related front groups which attempt to portray themselves as being “green” while doing the opposite.
This brings us back to the definition of ENVIRONMENT. To most people when speaking of the environment it is understood to be air, water, land, and everything connected to being able to live in a healthy world.
As we learn more about the industrialization of our communities, we are finding that when Elected officials, heads of agencies and corporate interests speak about the “environment”, they are talking about the BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT, the PROFIT ENVIROMENT, the INVESTMENT ENVIRONMENT, the MONEY ENVIRONMENT.
Nothing seems to get a politician off his or her butt faster than to jingle a bag of gold.
In May of 2013, the Bradford County Commissions held a SPECIAL meeting, not to address water contamination or air pollution resulting from fossil fuel industrialization. The SPECIAL meeting was held in response to complaints by leaseholders who weren’t getting the big royalty checks they expected. (SEE: REVOLT OF THE DRILL LEASERS)
By the end of June 2013, Yaw had introduced Senate Bill 259 and it’s been promoted as a “Royalty Transparency Bill”.
Legislation requiring natural gas companies operating in Pennsylvania to standardize all deductions on royalty check payment stubs has passed both chambers of the General Assembly and now heads to Governor Corbett’s desk, according to bill sponsor Senator Gene Yaw (R-23).
This was quickly followed by the Pennsylvania State Senate holding a hearing in June of 2013. The hearing was led by Senator Gene Yaw and joined by Senators John Yudichak (D-14), Minority Committee Chairman, Lisa Baker (R-20), Kim Ward (R-39), Elder Vogel (R-47), Scott Hutchinson (R-21), as well as Representatives Garth Everett (R-84), Matthew Baker (R-68), Tina Pickett (R-110) and Sandra Major (R-111).
Testifying at a Senate Environmental Resources and Energy committee hearing on June 27, 2013, Bradford County Commissioners Chairman Doug McLinko said, “Our constituents have shown us evidence of extraordinary post-production cost in Bradford County, with deductions of 40 and 50% all the way up to as much as 90%.” “…we have seen checks come with zero payment. We have seen retroactive charges being billed to land owners for tens of thousands of dollars where the property owners actually have a bill sent to them and they go without any royalty payments until it is paid in full.” Similar concerns were raised by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau at the same hearing. After listening to the testimony, Yaw says he’s not sure why more people aren’t filing lawsuits, and is doubtful there can be any quick legislative fixes.“We could take action,” he says, “But that’s not going to solve the problems some of the people face now. I think they need to take action themselves. But the encouraging thing is I think there are avenues for them to pursue it. They’re not alone. They just need to be willing to do it for themselves.”
Senate Bill 259 would require companies producing natural gas to show on each royalty check stub, attachment to a payment form, or other remittance advice a detailed itemization of all royalty deductions from royalties paid to a leaseholder.
“Senate Bill 259 provides a simple, transparent way for subsurface owners who presently receive royalty payments from natural gas companies to verify that royalty payments received are being made properly,” Yaw said. “This measure mirrors what is seen in other natural gas producing states and provides specificity to those recipients on natural gas royalties.”
Yaw’s bill does not provide for payment of a “fair share” of royalties, it just requires to fossil fuel industry to list deductions and their amounts. Yaw’s bill also included a forced pooling gift to the fossil fuel industry.
The gift would allow gas corporations to drill on properties which have very old oil and gas leases. Leases which were signed long before the shale boom hit Pennsylvania.
The bill would give gas corporations the right to pool the land unless the old contract expressly forbids it, which the old contracts usually don’t.
Old lease holders want the opportunity to “renegotiate” the contracts in light of the “new” horizontal fracking technology to be used. (See: Forced to Frack – Get a Lawyer).
GOLDEN GAS RALLY
While claiming protecting the air, water and land is “not their job”, and by extension addressing the problem of water and air contamination in their county, the commissions have decided ensuring maximum royalty payments is their job.
One reason for the urgency of action by the Bradford County Commission is the natural gas bust currently being experienced. The area of the Marcellus shale beneath Bradford County produces “dry gas”. Dry Gas is 80% or more pure methane and contains little to no natural gas liquids or oil. In mid 2012 the fossil fuel industry decided it would be more profitable to pull up their rigs and head to the western part of the Marcellus shale and frack for natural gas liquids and oil.
For Bradford and other counties located in the northeastern part of the Marcellus shale, the golden gas goose has died. This means dependency on the flow of gold has switched from the economic stimulus directly from fossil fuel activities to economic stimulus from people receiving royalties.
The Bradford County commissioners will be speaking at the rally, and other speakers are being lined.
Doug McLinko, chairman of the Bradford County commissioners said he supports gas drilling, but area residents are being treated unfairly by a number of gas companies.
Yes, there is swift action by the County Commissioners when money is involved. Contaminated water….not so much, it’s not their job.
©2014 by Dory Hippauf