Hydraulic fracturing is a natural gas extraction process that injects poisonous chemical laced water and sand underground into shale rock to force out trapped natural gas. In addition to problems with poisonous fracking fluid spills at the well, disposal of the fluid presents major problems. This week, by unanimous vote the Vermont Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee voted to prohibit hydraulic fracking. To become law the bill must be passed by the entire senate and melded with a similar house bill which will prohibit the practice for only three years.
Due to Vermont’s unique bedrock hydro-fracking is not “commercially viable” but places not “commercially viable” now may become so at a later date; it is a changeable target. Areas in several states now actively fracked are viable now only because of changes in techniques and market forces. A short term prohibition such as the Vermont House version kicks the can down the road. This may suit the American Petroleum Institute’s lobbyist Joe Choquette who early in the debate urged Vermont lawmakers not to approve a permanent ban.
"We'd like a go slow approach to let the science of fracking develop and let regulators work out any problems that might occur."
“It keeps farmers in farming because it adds value to their land”
What might this process look like?
What does this “adding value to the land” by fracking lease look like?
The Cleveland Plain Dealer has a story about their drilling boom and Ohioan Larry Piergallini, a lawyer/landowner who is handling drilling leases for a block of 200 farmers. The paper describes a frenzy of leasing, bonus per acre payouts, and lawyers, lots of lawyers. Lawyer Piergallini recruited his neighbors at an alarming pace. In two 12-hour shifts last August, Piergallini, 56, helped 550 families in Harrison and Jefferson counties execute leases with oil and gas companies covering 32,000 acres. Certainly makes us wonder what the rush was and recalls the old saying “act in haste repent at leisure”.
The Plain Dealer mentions over half a dozen large law firms rushing to keep pace with the legal challenges of a fracking lease boom:
Leasing and title quandaries are just the opening volley in what will be years of legal work and probably thousands of lawsuits tied to exploration, drilling, production and pipeline construction.
In New York State in 2011 over 400 leaseholders filed suit against gas companies, and lease termination meetings are being held among disgruntled landowners.
When “adding value to the land,” unanticipated ripple effects, financial and otherwise, naturally result. In Ohio and Colorado underground disposal of waste frack fluids are linked to a series of local earthquakes. In addition to little earthquakes Ohio emergency personal must now train to deal with the increased costs and dangers of private companies trucking millions of gallons of hazardous fluids to and from wells on rural roads. Well site fires are also among the potential expensive difficulties municipalities must be prepared for.
So where will the fracking world be in three years’ time? I would bet that fracking technology advances on a faster track than the one that might eliminate troublesome leasing agreements.