This personal story is one of a series on Preserve the Beartooth Front chronicling the impact of the oil and gas boom on the lives of people all over North America. You can see other personal stories in our series by clicking here.
The story comes from an organization called the Responsible Drilling Alliance (RDA) in Pennsylvania, a grassroots group of dedicated citizens who seek to educate themselves and the public about deep shale gas drilling, and to advocate for necessary regulations. RDA has been very encouraging of our efforts along the Beartooth Front, and former board member Ralph Kisberg wrote a guest post for Preserve the Beartooth Front about lessons learned after many years of drilling in Pennslyvania.
Today’s personal story was published in the RDA’s most recent newsletter. It is written in the first person by a woman who identifies herself as Kelly, a resident of Shrewsbury Township, located in southern Pennsylvania, about midway between Harrisburg and Baltimore.
The story’s lesson is clear. When an operator or landman comes to your door, don’t sign anything until you’ve consulted with a land use attorney. The story begins below the photo.
This is for all the people out there who are just waiting for the gas wells to go in so they can start collecting big bucks. Well, let me tell you a little about the big bucks.
We live in Lycoming County, on 43 acres. We were first offered $2 an acre to allow the gas company to “explore” our land. Next, they told us that there was gas under our land and that we would be able to collect royalties. They said we could see almost $1000 per acre in royalties that would last up to 50 years. $1,000 x 43 x 50 = over 2 million! That sounded great! We thought we were going to be rich, and never have to worry about money again.
We were in a hurry to get the money so we were in a hurry to sign the lease as quickly as possible, in spite of the fact that the contract was really long and confusing and full of big words. We signed a lease for 10 years, but didn’t realize they could automatically renew it for another 5 years, which they did.
After the first 10 years, we wanted out. The company we signed with had changed hands three times, cleared 3 miles of old growth trees, dug up our land, put in 3 wells and a pipeline, and ruined our roads. The traffic was awful: big, loud diesel trucks running up and down our roads all day and night. Trucks also leaked contaminated fluids into the nearby creek.
It’s been 15 years since we signed. Now, they’ve shut down all the wells around us because they aren’t producing. We spent money on a lawyer (trying to get out of the lease) and more money on tires and alignments for our vehicles because of the potholes and road conditions. We lost many of our trees, and the wildlife we used to have here is nearly all gone. Our lawyer told us we should continue to have our drinking water tested several times a year to make sure it’s safe to drink, and those tests are expensive.
And where’s all the royalty money they said we would receive? There is none! We are left with abandoned wells, no royalty money, and the land all but destroyed. They promised they would restore the land and put it back the way it was, but we haven’t seen a single tree replanted. I’m 42 years old, I’ll be six feet under before the land ever looks like it did before the gas company showed up.
I hope this helps some of you who are eager to sign and see the money start to roll in. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones to receive royalties, but you need to know that you’re sacrificing your water, your land, your animals, and your health – and nothing will be the same for the rest of your life. So think before you sign. We learned the hard way: the gas industry makes promises it can’t keep – and money isn’t everything.
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