“It’s disappointing that private corporate interests can trump my rights as a landowner. I’m worried that I’ll be forced into an undesirable lease that does not protect my land or my ability to farm in the future,”
Telling personal stories
The oil and gas boom has been underway for a number of years in many locations across North America, and there are now a lot of stories about individuals and families whose lives have been personally affected. This post is part of a regular weekly series of those stories on this blog to help you envision what could happen if drilling expands along the Beartooth Front.
Today’s post has a different point of view, one that should resonate with many residents of Carbon and Stillwater Counties. It’s not about someone who has suffered the effects of oil and gas drilling, but a person who is doing everything he can to protect his business and property rights from being ruined by drilling.
The issue here is one we haven’t yet discussed on this blog. It’s called “involuntary pooling” or “compulsory utilization” in Montana. We’ll have a subsequent post on the subject, but a basic definition is that involuntary pooling forces a land owner into participation in an oil and/or gas producing unit. Pooling is a technique used by oil and gas development companies to organize an oil or gas field.
So if there are separate tracts in a drilling unit owned by different people, the owners can pool their interests to drill a well. If one or more people do not want to drill, our good friends at the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation can force those owners to participate in the pool.
This provision is described in Montana code 82-11-202. More on this topic later this week.
As you can see from Kip Gardner’s story, this provision would take his property rights and potentially ruin his business.
You can see other personal stories in this series by clicking here.
Kip Gardner, Carroll County Ohio
Kip Gardner, owner of Creekview Ridge Farm, purchased 18 acres of land in January 2011 in Carroll County. He currently grows a variety of specialty crops and raises free-range chickens on 10 acres. Kip is working to earn organic certification for his land, which takes three years to fully transition from conventional to organic status.
Kip began his journey knowing he would have to work hard to meet the challenges of starting a small farm business. But he didn’t anticipate that nearby fracking and the threat of mandatory pooling could put his land and his organic certification at risk, before he’s even had a chance to get started.
Water or soil contamination resulting from fracking could jeopardize Kip’s ability to certify his land. If a farm’s Organic System Plan or soil, product, or tissues samples indicate the presence of prohibited materials, a farmer must address these concerns. In some situations when a prohibited substance is detected, a producer must wait at least three years before the land can return to organic certification.
There are more than 500 certified organic operations and nearly 53,000 acres of certified organic pasture and cropland in Ohio, much of it in areas of the state containing shale deposits.
When Kip purchased Creekview Ridge Farm on the edge of the Utica shale formations, few people in Ohio were talking about fracking, but over the last year the industry has exploded and fracking activity in Kip’s neigbhorhood has become progressively more noticeable.
In March 2011, a once empty railyard began to fill with trains and trucks, and there was a steady buzz of traffic on the local roadways. Kip watched as truckload after truckload of sand and chemicals traveled to and from fracking locations.
April 2011 began with a bang, literally, as the sounds of unannounced explosions and the rumble of bulldozers rang throughout the hills. Although Kip turned down multiple lease offers, by summer 2012, he learned that nearly all of his neighbors had signed leases, thanks in part to the organizing efforts of a local landowners group, the newly established Associated Landowners of the Ohio Valley.
With so much of the area now leased, Kip is concerned that the state will force him into a lease through a process called “mandatory pooling,” which allows oil and gas companies to petition the state for access to unleased land.
To petition the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, companies must acquire as little as 65 percent of the land needed for a particular site. Sadly, the process leaves little recourse for landowners to contest and appeal unwanted oil and gas wells or other fracking infrastructure.
“It’s disappointing that private corporate interests can trump my rights as a landowner. I’m worried that I’ll be forced into an undesirable lease that does not protect my land or my ability to farm in the future,” said Kip.
After a stressful year, and at the advice of a lawyer, Kip and his family approached oil and gas companies with an alternative proposal that would have strictly limited industry access to specific areas of his property.
Despite his efforts to negotiate, Kip and his attorney have yet to find a company that will agree to his specific terms. While Kip’s farm was once over a mile and a half away from the closest well, if drilling begins on his neighbor’s farm, fracking would literally be at his back doorstep.