On the same day an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) panel heard Pennsylvania residents describe their worries about hydraulic fracturing in the state's portion of the Marcellus Shale, a state lawmaker spoke out against another item near and dear to the hearts of the state's gas producers: forced pooling.
If enacted in state law, forced pooling compels the combination of landowner leases into a common pool under one drilling production company and utilizing one common underground geological reservoir. Gas producers in Pennsylvania are facing the prospect of a severance tax on production later this year and have said that a forced pooling provision should be part of any legislation that creates a tax (see NGI, July 5).
However, some people believe that forced pooling tramples on landowner rights. Pennsylvania state Sen. Lisa Baker, a Republican from Lehman Township, is one of them. "Pennsylvania should decide the question of imposing a severance tax on its merits, without trading away people's rights.
"Across the Marcellus Shale portions of Pennsylvania, there is a lot of acreage potentially available for deep well drilling. Certain sites may be more attractive to drillers, but no single site is essential. People should not be forced by state law to accept drilling beneath their property if they do not want it. Such a requirement is not right, is not necessary, and is not acceptable," Baker said last Thursday.
Elsewhere, forced pooling has been the target of lawsuits. Lawyers and landowners in Virginia recently mounted a class action effort against leading producers in that state over royalties and other issues. Included in their fight is a challenge to the state's forced pooling statute (see NGI, June 21). "They've been...more or less taking somebody's property without compensating them," attorney plaintiffs' Peter Glubiak told NGI. "There are lots of twists and turns, but that's the basic premise...that they're taking someone's property and they're not paying for it."
However, in Virginia forced pooling is allowed as a means for the state to more efficiently develop its coalbed methane resources, energy companies maintain.
Baker said Pennsylvania should respect an individual or family's decision not to sign an oil or gas lease. "The economic interests of gas drilling do not override the fundamental rights of property owners. There is no public purpose here that could justify taking people's property rights...There is a misconception that this change in law would adversely affect just the property owners who do not want to lease their lands. By giving the companies the ability to compel some instead of having to negotiate with all, forced pooling would diminish the value of leases for every property holder."
Compared to hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracing) well stimulation, though, forced pooling is somewhat of a back-burner issue, at least for now in Pennsylvania. Last Thursday the EPA held its third of four public hearings as part of a study of hydrofracing and its potential to affect the environment, including well water (see NGI, July 19; July 12).
Thursday's meeting was held in Canonsburg, PA, near Pittsburgh and drew representatives from the natural gas industry as well as concerned residents.
"I urge the EPA to help my family and other families living near drilling to get answers to their questions," area resident Stephanie Hallowitch said at the meeting, as reported by the Associated Press (AP). Research is necessary "to protect other families before it is too late and they are in our situation."
Lou D'Amico, president of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association, was at the meeting, too. "The controversy [over hydrofracing] is one based on media-generated public hysteria and perception, not science, fact or evidence," he said as reported by AP. About 1,200 people reportedly attended the meeting.
The EPA's fourth hydrofracing meeting, to be in Binghamton, NY, is scheduled for Aug. 12.
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