A recent Associated Press article highlights the differences between New York and Pennsylvania concerning natural-gas production via hydraulic fracturing. New York has a moratorium on fracking, Pennsylvania allows it. The result, farmers and landowners in Pennsylvania are benefitting from fracking, while farmers and landowners just across the border look on with envy.
When Dan Fitzsimmons looks across the Susquehanna River and sees the flares of Pennsylvania gas wells, he thinks bitterly of the riches beneath his own land locked up by the heated debate that has kept hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, out of New York.
“I go over the border and see people planting orchards, buying tractors, putting money back in their land,” said Fitzsimmons, a Binghamton landowner who heads the 70,000-member Joint Landowners Coalition of New York. “We’d like to do that too, but instead we struggle to pay the taxes and to hang onto our farms.’”
Indeed, the 30,000-member New York Farm Bureau supports natural-gas development.
Not everyone in Pennsylvania is enamored with fracking. While the process itself has not proven harmful, some farmers have complained that some drilling companies have been careless in their operations by not properly storing or isolating wastewater from livestock. In addition, contractors have destroyed valuable timber when building access roads.
New York landowners, however, are well aware of these potential problems and they are not relying (primarily) on government to protect their interests or property from harm. Rather they propose building extensive protections into their leases.
“I turned down an offer of $700,000 because the lease was really bad,” said Jim Worden, who raises cows, corn, soybeans and oats near Binghamton. “We won’t sign a lease that jeopardizes our family’s future. It’s not so much about money as about protecting yourself and the environment.”
A landowner’s coalition traveled to Albany recently to demand their right to profit from the natural resources kept at arms length by local drilling bans.
Dairy farmer Jennifer Huntington in Otsego County sued the town of Middlefield over one such ban because it prevented a planned conventional gas well on her land. A judge upheld the ban but Huntington plans to appeal.
“We would have used the royalties to update the anaerobic digester that we installed in 1984,” Huntington said, referring to technology that produces methane fuel from manure. “We would have purchased a better oil seed press to more efficiently press soybeans for biodiesel. We would have invested in our farm, our land, and our employees.”
Who would have guessed that landowners understand their own interests better than government?