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Natural Gas Exxposed: Home Invasion
- Gas drilling endangers homeowners: Gas drilling contaminates water with methane, benzene, arsenic and dozens of toxic carcinogens. Additionally, benzene, smog, ozone and diesel emissions from gas wells cause cancer, asthma, dizziness, headaches, and neurological problems. Constant noise, bright lights, and pits full of toxic waste destroy homeowners’ ability to enjoy their homes and property. When a gas well flares, it sounds like a jet engine taking off, and can be heard for miles. Imagine that sound for days on end, just a few hundred feet from your bedroom window.
- Gas drilling destroys property values: From Texas to Wyoming to Pennsylvania, countless homeowners have learned the cruel truth that a home without clean water is essentially valueless. Many homeowners dealing with contamination have had their property values slashed by 75 or 80 percent by professional appraisers, but have been unable to find buyers—at any price. These families are often stuck paying mortgages on homes they can no longer live in safely, with no one to turn to for help. Gas companies have no obligation to compensate homeowners for the loss of their shelter, or the long-term loss of their “nest egg.” For some, destroyed land is also destroyed income. Farmers have watched as companies that told them at lease-signing, “You’ll never even know we’re here” instead built roads and toxic wastewater pools on their best fields, leaving their animals with no place to graze and their crop yields insufficient to pay their bills.
- Abusive gas leases are the norm: A New York Times review of 110,000 gas leases found that fewer than half of leases required gas companies to compensate landowners for contaminated water, most leases allowed gas companies to substantially modify the property without the landowner’s consent, and two thirds of leases allowed gas companies to extend the lease without consulting the landowner. Gas companies rarely explain the environmental and quality of life impacts of gas drilling, and are intentionally deceptive and vague when explaining the terms of leases to landowners. The deceptive and misleading tactics used by gas industry “land men” were exposed when an Ohio woman found a talking points document used to coach land men on how to bend the facts and pressure landowners into signing away their rights.
Promises of big royalties don’t pan out: Gas companies convince many landowners to sign away their rights with big promises that they’ll be able to retire rich. Tales of “shaleionaires” striking it rich are touted far and wide as evidence that drilling can be the answer to all your prayers, but such fairy tale happy endings are few and far between. Between deceptive leases, shady business practices, and lackluster well performance, many landowners have the same word of caution for others in their position, “It wasn’t worth it.” While data on royalty payments is not collected, we do know that the amount of gas produced by shale formations has been far less than the initial hype suggested. Industry insiders have called shale gas a “ponzi scheme” on par with Enron, because companies inflated projections on the amount of shale gas in the ground to drum up investment, only to have expectations fall far short. The U.S. Geological Survey found that there was 80 percent less gas in the Marcellus Shale than many companies had long claimed, meaning that most leaseholders in the Marcellus are in for a bad surprise. The Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and the New York State Attorney General are now looking into whether companies committed fraud by misleading their investors. But who’s looking out for the landowners?
- Gas leases violate most mortgages: Most major lenders, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo, prohibit gas leases on mortgaged property. Many other require prior approval. A Congressional Research Service report found that signing a drilling lease without prior approval on a property with a mortgage owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac “generally will be considered an act of default under the mortgage.” Many landowners, however, aren’t aware that their mortgages prohibit them from signing gases leases. As a result, homeowners who sign gas leases could be forced to pay the full value of their mortgage immediately or face foreclosure.
- Some homeowners have no choice at all: In some communities in the midst of a drilling boom, residents had no chance at all to oppose the industrialization of their backyards. In cases of “split estate,” landowners control only the surface rights, meaning that all subsurface land (usually, all land deeper than a foot into the ground) is owned by someone else—the government, a company, or another individual. Often landowners don’t even realize they don’t own their mineral or subsurface rights until they get a knock on their door and learn that a drill pad is going to be placed in their backyard—without their consent. In other cases of “forced pooling” or “mandatory inclusion,” landowners may be compelled to allow drilling on their property if enough people around them have leased their land for drilling.
- Gas drilling makes it impossible for many families to sell their homes: Many lenders are reluctant to issue a mortgage on a property with gas wells on it. Between difficult finances and diminished property values, and contaminated water, many homeowners find themselves trapped in their homes once they sign gas leases. Additionally, some homeowners find themselves unable to
- Gas drilling causes increases in crime rates: As gas workers move into town, rates of medical emergencies, drunk driving, assault, drug use and violence against women rise sharply. Sublette County, Wyoming saw its arrest rate increase by 270 percent between 1995 and 2004 while its population only grew by 21 percent. Increases in reported crimes, emergency room visits and ambulance runs also far outpaced population growth and are best explained by increased drilling activity. In Sweetwater County, Wyoming, DUIs and drug arrests doubled over a ten year period as a result of a drilling boom. Dickinson, North Dakota saw a 300 percent increase in assaults and sex crimes when the gas industry moved in. In Williston, North Dakota, domestic disturbance calls more than doubled in a year.
- Gas drilling creates a housing crisis for families: The massive influx of out-of-state workers strains rental markets and increases homelessness as middle- and low-income families struggle to find affordable housing, unable to pay the rents the nomadic gas workers can pay. Small towns with no prior history of homelessness now have the sudden appearance of families living in cars, on couches, in tents, and under bridges. The price of groceries, gasoline and other basic commodities has also gone up in areas with heavy drilling, leaving most long-time residents under even greater financial pressure.
- Gas drilling hurts schools and first responders, and burdens local services: The sharp decline in property values that accompanies gas drilling erodes the tax base, reducing the amount of money available for local schools, police, firefighters, EMS, and other community services. Local governments are even more cash-strapped because of increased demand for all of the same services. In addition to increased demand for emergency services (see above), gas drilling takes a heavy toll on local roads, costing millions of dollars in damage. Gas workers don’t contribute anything to alleviate these problems, because they typically maintain out-of-state residence and pay no local income taxes.