Telling personal stories
The oil and gas boom has been underway for a number of years in many locations across North America, and many stories have come to light 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, and what is possible to keep that from happening.
Today’s story is a very personal tale of regret, of loss and activism. Carol French is very open about her mistakes, and she is actively working to support others who might find themselves in the same situation.
You can see other personal stories in this series by clicking here. Note that you can find more by clicking “Older Posts” at the bottom of the page.
Carol French, Bradford County, Pennsylvania
Carol French is a dairy farmer in Bradford County, Pennsylvania. She got $13,000 from Chesapeake Oil to drill on her property. It wasn’t worth it. The cost to her land, her water, her livelihood, her animals, and her family’s health was devastating.
Carol’s personal story, which she wrote for Public Herald, was originally published in October, 2012.
In 2006 Carol was approached by a landman who offered her a fixed-price lease and a chance to make a lot of money if a well was drilled on her property. Unlike most of us in Carbon and Stillwater Counties, Carol owns the mineral rights under her property.
She later found out that the $85 per acre she received was far less than the $2500 per acre the owners of smaller properties had been offered.
After a long period of inactivity, three wells were drilled near her farm at the end of 2010. She remembers that she and her neighbors immediately regretted their decision to lease:
“Farmers were seeking out lawyers for advice, because of the gas company’s exploitation of the lease agreement. Many were beginning to question, what have we done? Farm land was getting ripped up like old material for a patch work quilt. In the middle of 2011, five more gas wells were drilled around our farm. Two of the gas wells were less than 4,000 feet away.By the spring of 2009, there was uneasiness among some of the farmers who had a gas well drilled on their property. The local newspaper was reporting contamination found in water wells, death occurring on a gas pad and the farmer was facing the fact that he could lose his farm due to a lawsuit based on the gas companies operation. For myself, I was thinking that our lucky neighbor was going to become the next Millionaire, because they had the gas well drilled on them. Soon my mind changed. Those farmers were facing penalties lodged against them, due to their land becoming industrial use instead of agricultural use.”
In March of 2011 the composition of her water changed. As she describes it, “It now turns white, with a green moss settling on top of sand. Then the water becomes gelatin like.”
A litany of problems
The litany of problems she describes is heartbreaking:
- Her neighbor, whose water also turned, suffered a burst spleen and had to be hospitalized.
- Carol’s daughter became very ill and was admitted to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with an enlarged liver, spleen and ovary.
- By late 2012, 22 months after the first wells were drilled, many of her neighbors who had left their jobs to work for the drilling companies were unemployed as the boom subsided.
- When the company she signed the lease with had financial problems, she became legally responsible for a portion of their debt because of a mechanic’s lien.
- When the water was contaminated, they became dependent on the drilling company for bottled water and/or filtration systems.
- Carol’s health and the health of her animals suffered. She moved her daughter out of state to protect her.
- A contaminated farm near Carol’s is for sale at a sales price reduced by over 80%.
As Carol tells the story she is filled with regret. She worries about the quality of milk her cows produce, but the state agency doesn’t test it. Her water is ruined. She knows she had stars in her eyes when she signed the lease, that she was hoping to get lucky and become rich, and she wishes she had gotten legal representation before she ever signed. As she thinks back on what has happened she reflects, “There have been a few that have prospered from the gas activity in our area. Some people are living in denial, and for others it has become a nightmare. Now we are finding ourselves asking the question, ‘what have we done?'”
This video is nearly 10 minutes long, but it’s very sobering to listen to. Carol doesn’t sugar coat her story, and she takes her share of personal blame for what has happened. She has become an activist who speaks out to help others who will face the same issues she has. Definitely worth watching:
Lessons to be learned
There are many lessons to be learned from Carol’s story. If she could go back in time, I believe she would say that, above all, you shouldn’t be naive when the landman comes. Get legal advice, and don’t believe the promises. Specifically,
- Protect your water. Attend a seminar on baseline water testing. There’s one on Thursday, June 5 in Red Lodge. If you miss that, at least attend a seminar online.
- Protect your property. Find out if you own the mineral rights under your land.
- Get informed. Read information on this blog. Talk to your neighbors. Join Northern Plains Resource Council.