Fracking Fight Divides Pennsylvania Family

A Pennsylvania family says it has become an unwilling participant in the state’s hydraulic fracturing boom. According to a report in the Associated Press, the family says that in 2007, Chesapeake Energy Corp. convinced their sick, elderly grandmother to sign a natural gas drilling lease, but that her three grandchildren who share ownership of the 115 acre dairy farm in northern Pennsylvania knew nothing of the agreement, and never gave Chesapeake their consent to start fracking operations there.

Fracking is a drilling technique that involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. The chemicals that make up that fracking fluid are cause for concern. They may include, among other things, barium, strontium, benzene, glycol-ethers, toluene, 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, and nonylphenols. All have been linked to health disorders when human exposure is too high. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, frackers don’t have to disclose the chemicals that make up there fracking fluids.

Pennsylvania, which sets atop the natural gas rich Marcellus shale, has become ground zero in the debate surrounding fracking. Chesapeake largest stakeholder in the Marcellus Shale, with 2.7 million acres under lease

According to the Associated Press, 94-year-old Bernice Price signed her lease with Chesapeake while she was living out her final days in a nursing home. The Silver Lake Township farm where the drilling would occur has been in the family since the 1830’s. According to her grandchildren, Chesapeake offered here a mere $50-per acre for the decade-long lease.

Price’s grandchildren told the Associated Press that they are angry Chesapeake ignored their rights as co-owners, and are worried that fracking will ruin their land. They also said their father, Lloyd Stevens, Bernice Price’s son, had voiced deathbed concerns about the approaching gas boom and warned them not to sell out.

“Dad knew there was something here. He could see the changes. The last few days of his life, he said, ‘Here’s what I want you to do. Here’s what my wishes are,'” Craig Stevens told the Associated Press. “‘Don’t sign a gas lease’ was his thing.”

Bernice Price signed the lease with Chesapeake less than three months after her son’s death, and the agreement was ratified by her other two children. But another third belongs to Lloyd Steven’s three children. Craig Stevens told the Associated Press that he and his siblings were in the dark for 14 months until a letter arrived from their estranged aunt.

The Steven’s children found themselves facing two difficult choices: pay lawyers thousands of dollars to try to try terminate the lease, or agree to a better deal. Terminating the lease would be difficult, the Associated Press said, because Pennsylvania and other states follow a “majority rule” allowing a landowner to develop minerals without the consent of the co-owners — so long as the nonconsenting parties receive “an accounting for their interest in the minerals developed.”

In the end, the Stevens’ children agreed to a more lucrative deal with Chesapeake – $8,000 an acre over 10 years — 160 times the amount of money that Price and two of her children had accepted — plus 20 percent of the value of any gas extracted from the property.

But despite the better deal, Craig Stevens told the Associated Press that he is still bitter about the way his family was treated by Chesapeake, and he has become an outspoken fracking opponent.

Stevens told the Associated Press that he will use the money he receives from the lease to finance his fight against fracking.

“I’m going to spend the rest of my time fighting. I don’t think this is safe for the state of Pennsylvania and I don’t like what I see happening.”

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