Have you heard about Marcellus gas drilling? It's also known as "Fracking", and it's been huge news in our area for the past few years, and it's not going away anytime soon.
The Marcellus is one of the largest natural gas formations in the world. Up until recently no one knew how to access that gas, since the formation is so deep and trapped in shale. Now companies have a way to drill deep into the ground (about 6,000 ft) and then drill horizontily to get to the gas. They use a combination of water and chemicals to fracture the shale and release the gas - here's where that term "fracking" comes from.
Our county sits right on top of a concentrated deposit of this gas, it's been called "Ground Zero of the Marcellus rush". In the past two years the communities around us have become "boom towns" and the mineral rights owners have seen some nice checks come their way. Our lives were affected in two direct ways from the drilling.
First, after we bought the farm we were approached to sign a gas lease. It did not matter so much that we owned the land, only that we owned a percentage of the mineral rights. For reasons beyond me, the land and anything under the land are separated. This has led to all kinds of problems in our area. Many landowners do not own the mineral rights under their land, which means they have no say as to whether a drilling rig will appear in their front yard. At that time, we didn't know much about the drilling, a good price to ask for, and the implications of signing a lease. We signed a five year lease, with just a couple extra specifications (no drilling in our front yard!) and got a check. Ever since then I've had my fingers crossed that they don't come on our land and do this:
Second, two years ago the truck traffic on the road in front of the farm went WAY up. They were all trucks on their way to the wells. (This is a nice visual of what's happening at the well sites). Farmer John was run off the road several times by those big trucks while he was driving to work. Big trucks and narrow, curvy West Virginia roads don't mix very well. It was amazing the change we noticed, and it seemed to happen overnight. We watched as huge tankers, rigs and heavy equipment were hauled past the farm.
So far, these have been, what I consider, the direct changes to our life since the boom of Marcellus drilling. There have been many indirect changes, but none of them have really changed our day to day lives.
However, this summer we were faced with another aspect of the gas drilling. Once they drill for the gas it has to go somewhere. A company approached us about constructing a pipeline to go across the farm. This was something we didn't know much about. Unlike the gas lease, we didn't just want to make a few requests and cross our fingers that it would all work out. So, we spent a considerable amount of time researching pipelines and all the implications for the farm. We talked to friends that had already negotiated a pipeline contract. We looked at pipeline pictures online so we knew what to expect. We read as much as possible about how to negotiate with the pipeline company and what should and should not be included in a contract. We talked with a lawyer. And finally we spent time talking together about this descision. It wasn't one that we made lightly.
What helped us to make the choice to sign with the pipeline company was all the positive implications for the farm. The pipeline will create large open areas that eventually can be pastures for the cattle. All the marketable trees can be sold for timber. Since the line was going to run near a spring, we were able to negotiate that money be included in the contract to develop that spring. This development will allow us to get water to the cattle near the back of the farm. Finally, we were compensated for the damage done to the land. That compensation will allow us to work towards other big goals on the farm.
Here's the negative part of signing that contract:
We now have a 90 foot swath cut through the woods. Right now, they are only at the clearing stage. Soon they will start to lay the pipeline, which I imagine will be an even bigger mess.
Although when I signed that contract, and deposited that check, I knew what was coming. It's just a lot harder to see in person.