Speaker discusses some legal aspects of Marcellus drilling

BELL TOWNSHIP — The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) presented a third workshop on “Marcellus Shale Choices: Understanding Legal Issues” related to Marcellus Shale drilling at Camp Little Leo Monday.

Ross Pifer, director of the Penn State Agricultural Law Resource & Reference Center at the Dickinson School of Law, addressed a variety of legal aspects involved in deep gas drilling for those who choose to lease land; for neighbors and citizens who don’t own land or gas rights but whose properties are leased for drilling; and for farmers, landowners and citizens who may be impacted by drilling in other ways.

Pifer said farmers and rural land owners are a key group impacted by the Marcellus gas development, as they continue to steward their land in the complicated environment of Marcellus Shale gas play. 

PASA works to connect agricultural communities with the tools and knowledge they need to move from information to action regarding land, water and community issues related to deep gas drilling.

Pifer said in Pennsylvania, the number of Marcellus wells drilled has increased dramatically since 2005, when there were only two
deep natural gas wells drilled in the Keystone state.

In 2010, there were 1,454 wells, with the majority in the southwestern portion and northern tier of the state.

The most productive Marcellus wells have been in Bradford County, Pifer said, adding there is more pipeline infrastructure located in western Pennsylvania, which is how most natural gas is shipped, which could lead to more wells being drilled in this area in the near future.

One of the goals of the workshop was to explain the leasing process and how it affects farmers and surface estate owners who don’t own the mineral estate rights under its property.

Pifer said the expansion of Marcellus drilling sites is dependent on the number of drilling rigs that are available.

Before a well is drilled, the drilling company is required to obtain a permit from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), he said. Surface owner must be provided with 24 hours notice prior to commencement of drilling.

DEP must notify the surface owner, surface landowner or water purveyors whose water supply is located within 1,000 feet of a proposed well location, as well as the owner/operator of underlying coal seams in the area, Pifer said. A surface owner has the right to object to the permit.
Pifer said objections must be filed with DEP within 15 days of receipt of the notice.

Some of the objections can be based upon improper location of wells or inaccurate information in the permit application, he said.

The notification is not for the construction of a road or the pouring of the drill pad; it is when the drill bit is going into the ground.

Several members of the audience, who owned smaller farms, said that any court proceeding involving a drilling company didn’t seem like it would be a fair fight for the land owner due to drilling companies’ access to high-priced attorneys.

Another member of the audience said landowners like her who have gas drilling occurring on neighboring properties, could leave her property and others useless due to damage from the drilling.

“People are looking at the money being offered by the drilling companies in the short term, and are not aware of the price they may pay in the long term,” another audience member said.

Leah Smith, PASA member services manager, said the next and final workshop on Marcellus Shale will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 24, at the Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society Inc., 401 West Mahoning St.

Smith said the next workshop deals with building skills in communication, coordination and engagement on Marcellus Shale gas issues.
The next workshop will be led by staff from Penn Environment, who illustrate how to build skills to effectively communicate to the media and lawmakers about the issues that matter to farmers related to Marcellus Shale Gas drilling and development, she said.

Those who participate will learn what makes a good story, and how to share their message with the media through strategies such as letters to the editor, or contacting a reporter and being a source for a news piece, Smith said, adding that participants will also learn how to set up and prepare for meetings with their law makers, and practice communicating their message effectively.

Anyone who is seeking more information on understanding the legal issues related to Marcellus Shale drilling should check the PASA Web site at www.pasafarming.org/marcellusshalechoice.