Posting in Energy
Rising costs and the encroachment of suburbs has led many farmers to seek out non-traditional sources of income, like leasing land to gas companies for hydro-fracking.
Working the land is a difficult living. Rising costs and the encroachment of suburbs has led many farmers to seek out non-traditional sources of income. Leasing land to gas companies for hydro-fracking has become a potential lifeline for some.
Farmers who are in favor of fracking are facing opposition from environmental groups and sometimes even neighboring farms that might want to see the practiced banned. Some organic farmers are concerned with potential contamination from fracking activities that could threaten their livelihood by tainting their land.
As the debate continues, as much as 60 percent of land in one New York country has already been leased out. The Marcellus and Utica shale formations that are located upstate are thought to hold vast reserves of natural gas, and natural gas development is expanding.
The Epoch Times's Tara MacIsaac recently wrote about how the fracking controversy is unfolding in upstate New York. She told the tragic story of one farmer in Cortland County who leased out his land for $500,000 only to face financial ruin after incurring major investment losses in 2008. The drilling money was more than he thought he'd ever see from a life of farming.
That wasn't necessarily a cautionary tale, because the farmer could have invested his money differently. The article examined how a few farmers have become millionaires in best-case scenarios; others signed up quickly and receive only a small share of the overall royalties. Cornell researchers did, however, note that many leases are being obtained on the cheap, according to the article.
Drilling on farmland isn't even always avoidable. A farmer whose neighbor leases out adjacent property could be compelled into either paying into the venture as an active partner, be loaned money by the gas company and hope for payback, or simply sit back and collect the royalties (themselves or through an LLC). Drilling operations can be set up in their most productive fields, and they cannot dispute that, Epoch reported.
That's assuming that the well produces and is profitable on the books. My colleague Chris Nelder wrote about the questionable economics of shale gas drilling, and concluded that there is no guarantee that all operations will make money. There's no telling what the gas will sell for, how economically it can be produced, and the nation's reserves may be dramatically overstated.
Opponents say that there are too many unknowns that could threaten the future of the food industry in upstate New York. They point to the potential risks of the chemicals that are used in fracking and highlight its disputed safety record. Any contamination could turn customers off of New York produce or threaten farms that are certified organic, they say.
Their worries are being confirmed by mounting supportive evidence. A Cornell University professor recently concluded that shale gas mining activities were sickening animals and some people throughout the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency uncovered a toxic brew that fouled an aquifer at one site in Wyoming, and hydrofracking companies admitted to pumping diesel fuel into the ground during the Bush years. Researchers at Duke University have also accused the industry of stonewalling with contamination data.
Of course, many farms might shut down anyway. I've witnessed them disappearing throughout my lifetime. My childhood memories of the Bucks County, PA, landscape is of a very different place than it appears today. I can tell you where the farms used to be. The farms were gradually replaced by housing developments, and those few that remained have either received government aid to preserve "open space" or hustle to find new revenue with haunted hayrides and apple picking.
Farmers in upstate New York have a right to make money off of their land, which they presumably want to hold onto and pass on to future generations. The question is, who is going to make out best on the arrangement - the farmers or the gas companies, and will future generations be able to enjoy the fruit of their labor?
Photo: “American Gasland,” artwork by River Side (marcellusprotest/Flickr)
Related on SmartPlanet:
- EPA: hydrofracking may have tainted Wyoming groundwater
- Ohio: frackers caused earthquakes
- Fracking triggered British earthquakes
- Toxic fracking fluids revealed in Congressional report
- There’s no fracking way polluters won’t be bad actors
- Hydro-frackers to EPA: We used diesel - tough
- Controversial mining practice may return to the Empire state
- Scientist: gas industry is withholding hydro-fracking contamination data
- Marcellus shale fail - estimates of natural gas reserves were overstated
- Hydro-frackers to EPA - ‘tough, we used diesel’
- Everything you know about shale gas is wrong
- The questionable economics of shale gas
- study: hydrofracking sickening animals, people
- Marcellus shale fail: estimates of natural gas were inflated
Mar 22, 2012
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A poster here states that there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the fracking process, but you need to look past the fundamentals. It's never just about the fundamentals. Haven't we learned yet that it's folly to trust corporations to do the right thing, just because it's the right thing to do? Fracking threatens the water supply of over 100 million Americans. It is a pending disaster that will make the recent Gulf spill look like a hiccup. It could ruin the ground water across large swaths of America - a disaster that would be permanent on a human scale. This is not an overstatement. Clean fresh water, not natural gas, will be the commodity of the 21st century. It's probably the only thing upon which all futurists agree. The frackers claim that their wells are much deeper than the aquifer, but all it takes is a problem with the casing going down into the well, or a problem with their catchment pond, their waste disposal methods, etc. for their poisons and natural gas to leach into the water table. They can't promise that it won't happen, and it's almost guaranteed that it will, over and over again, as it already has happened many times. This issue should be at the top of everyone's list! See the documentary Gasland, and stop the gas companies before it's too late!
Farmers have been making these kinds of decisions for years. Plenty of farms have had oil rigs on them for decades. Some farmers make money by leasing out land for windmills, even though it damages the view of neighbors and can kill birds. Farmers have also had disputes over their neighbor's land practices since the beginning of farming. Examples are issues over water quality of streams flowing through both properties, and pesticide and fertilizer use. Growing up, our farm was next to a dairy and we once had issues with their used wash water peculating up on our land. Everybody in the area had wells which drew from the same aquifer and the large number of dairies in the area used more than their share. The water table dropped hundreds of feet as a result (from 100 feet to around 800 feet), and twice we had to spend thousands of dollars drilling our wells deeper. So there's really nothing new in the fracing issue. As for the alleged contamination from the fluids, it's looking more and more (including the Wyoming case) like it results from poor sealing practices around the well casing and not from the fluids seeping up from thousands of feet below the surface from cracks in the shale itself. This is a real problem, but it can be addressed. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the fracing process. See http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/02/mixed-verdict-on-fracking.html .
- - 2,000 water samples taken before the commencement of drilling in Susquehanna County that show that 80 percent of them already had methane. Methane is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas commonly found in Pennsylvania groundwater. Sources include swamps, landfills, coal mines and gas wells. - - This county in Pennsylvania is where that burning kitchen tap was filmed is full of coal mines and had methane issues for decades before fracking came to town. After a review of the history of methane in area wells a judge agreed and allowed the gas company to stop paying for water shipments to the area. Environmentalists are now fighting a proposed waterline project to the area claiming it will damage the environment. Huh? Fracking has caused many issues in other areas, but Gasland is a bad example to use because it is based on a lie.