On the ground, the shale boom is a mixed bag as rural landowners weigh the alternatives of securing lucrative royalties at the cost of their land being part of an oil/gas industrial push that critics contend is threatening local environments and public water supplies. The Los Angeles Times last Sunday profiled the dilemma through a feature on two brothers with dairy farms in the rich Marcellus Shale in western New York.

While repeating allegations of harm to domestic water supplies in some areas, such as Dimock, PA, the LA Times‘ front page report looked at dairy farmers Pete and Jack Diehl, near Callicoon, NY, in the Catskills, outlining what continues to be a stumbling block for the industry in terms of getting acceptance for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and the riches that the newfound natural gas and oil development is promising in various areas of the nation.

“Once you lease the land, they [oil/gas exploration/production companies] can do what they want on it; drill wherever they want,” said Pete Diehl, 67,who is against the development, while his brother Jack, 61, is going to lease his property as a means of hedging against a declining dairy industry in his part of New York state.

“If you do a contract right, the water will be tested beforehand and the [E&P] company will be liable for the water,” Jack Diehl told the Times, which described the local residents in that part of the New York Marcellus as “polarized.”

The newspaper’s report quoted a recent Quinnipiac Poll from December as indicating 45% of the local residents oppose fracking, while 44% favor it.

“Supporters of leasing see the potential income as a lifeline to keep their land and preserve their farms,” the Times report said. “Opponents fear they could lose their land and livelihood to environmental catastrophe.”

While some of the local landowners who support leasing criticize more recent second-home investors in the area for organizing opposition to the energy development, people on both sides of the argument in New York’s Catskills region are watching events in Dimock in Pennsylvania where families have allegedly had their water wells contaminated with methane and chemicals.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been conducting inspections of natural gas development in Washington County, PA, to make sure it complies with federal environmental laws (see Shale Daily, Feb. 16). Pending the outcome of the EPA studies, the federal agency is providing water to the local people impacted, according to the Times report.