Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gas Pipeline

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.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Mollie. I'm imagining it with pastures and a new stock tank (do you call them stock tanks in WV?).

  2. Lorraine in WisconsinNovember 8, 2011 at 8:49 AM

    Thanks, Mollie, for sharing your knowledge. We have had gas pipelines installed in our area, though none on our property. In the process it really seems like a rape of the land. But done properly, the restoration process can make the digging seem almost invisible after a few years (except for those little orange markers along the path that indicate "pipeline here"). The land is resilient. Good to know there will be some benefits for you and the farm.

    Sand that is used in the fracking process comes from our area, in Eau Claire, Dunn, and Chippewa Counties. For some reason it's the best sand for this use. The impact of mining the sand does not go away quite as easily as the the impact of laying the pipeline, it's basically a strip mining process. There are health issues relating to air and noise pollution, and communities and being divided in their responses. Landowners can earn a lot by allowing the mining, their neighbors gain only the negatives. And the influx of the machinery, trucks, and personnel is similar to what you are experiencing.

    There is just no clean or free energy so we all need to examine what we use and be as conservative as possible.

  3. Mollie, here in Charleston and southern WV, we have a lot of mountain top removal. The land can be reclaimed to look beautiful again. Remember, when you build a house, the ground takes a beating then looks terrific afterward. With the love you and Farmer Johnald Dunkin have for the place and each other, I'm sure wonders will bloom once the pipeline is complete. And, if you look at an Google earth view of the farm, you can see other pipelines, much older, that are now part of the scene without loss of beauty. You both put so much into your work and lives that getting a little kickback is well deserved! That farm has had logging, families, graveyards and more on it. This pipeline will be no different. As Mom says, "God will not let your love be less than it is." You are strong and the land is too! I admit, it shocked Jim and I seeing the pics, but hey, it's Autumn and in Spring, well - as they say in Jurassic Park - life will find a way and cover the ground with green beauty!


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