America’s Energy Clash
This letter is in regard to the series that Farm Journal is developing on the energy issue in the U.S. (see "At the Core of Domestic Energy Discovery," October 2012). I would like to give farmers more information about my personal experience.
Nearly 30% of the rural farmland in Bradford County, Pa., where I live, was leased to the gas and oil industry prior to 2006. Roughly 50% of the landowners leased their land for $5 to $85 per acre. Then, in 2008, the gas companies convinced another 10% to lease their land at $2,500 or more per acre.
During the leasing process, you could feel the excitement. There were suggestions made that if a gas well was drilled on your property you would become the next "shale-ionaire." Everyone would prosper from the new roads, jobs and the additional money from leasing and royalties. It seemed too good to be true, and it was.
By the spring of 2009 there was an uneasiness among area farmers who had a gas well drilled on their property. The local newspaper reported on contamination in water wells, a death that occurred on a gas pad and about one farmer who might lose his farm due to a lawsuit based on the gas companies’ operation. Local farmers began facing penalties because their land was now classified as industrial use instead of agricultural use. Landowners sought out legal advice, only to find that the attorneys were not experienced in oil and gas law. Some even had a conflict of interest. For instance, one landowner could not afford the attorney’s fee, so the attorney simply attached his name to the landowner’s royalty interest.
My neighbor Carolyn Knapp and I attended a presentation by a Penn State professor. He said that we must sacrifice—that it was our patriotic duty to help make our country independent from foreign oil. I could not wrap my mind around what he said. Was there legislation ensuring that our natural resources would stay in this country?
Between December 2010 and January 2011, three gas wells were drilled near my family’s farm. A few months later, five more gas wells were drilled nearby. Two of the gas wells are less than 4,000' away from our property, which we have owned for multiple generations.
On March 15, 2011, the water from our kitchen faucet appeared pearly white. Then, the water became gelatinlike. In October, my daughter became ill. She had a high fever, diarrhea, severe pains in her abdomen and lost 10 lb. in seven days. At the hospital they found her liver, spleen and her right ovary were extremely enlarged. Our neighbor living north of us had the same health issues after her water changed the same month. Her spleen burst three days after she went to the hospital. We knew our daughter would have to leave Pennsylvania in order to have a chance of a healthy, normal life. She moved to Tennessee. Today, we don’t drink the water or the milk from our cows. We still have to bathe in it. Our state Department of Environmental Protection refuses to test our water; therefore, the gas company will not provide water for our family or cows.
Today, many of the people who quit their previous job to work for the gas-related companies are now unemployed. We have become "prudent partners" with the gas company because we signed a lease with them. Now, we are finding ourselves responsible for their debts due to mechanic’s liens. There are for-sale signs in the yard of one contaminated farm, which has lost 80% to 90% of its value. His milk market is in jeopardy and who would buy his cows?
We believed in the false promises made by the gas industry. Now, I wonder whether they produce natural gas for this country or to sell overseas to the highest bidder? I keep asking myself, what have we done?
Risk Management Styles
I am a longtime subscriber and enjoy your magazine. I should have written to you [Charlene Finck, Farm Journal Editor] long ago to tell you how I appreciate your perspective on food and agriculture.
The Farm Journal Legacy Project has been so well presented and it’s always there—guiding and reminding us of the importance of multigenerational succession planning.
I am writing today to say, "Way to go!" with your comments on risk management in the Editor’s Notebook column in the September 2012 issue. Right on point and obviously, very timely.
I grew up on a farm and still farm in a small way today, but my day job is in risk management with a financial institution. Not enough is written in agriculture publications about risk management. More is written than a few years ago, but still not enough.
Keep up the good work!
Hello, I can’t help but respond to the marketing comment in the September Editor’s Notebook. Much marketing advice given to farmers through the media, if followed, amounts to "churning accounts." Sell but re-own, protect previous sales against price increases or decreases, protect your insurance price, etc. Some farmers may need to back off and adopt a KIS, keep it simple, approach. When yield in your field varies daily inversely to temperature and the market oscillates quicker, often due to forces unknown, perhaps being happy with what you can get is in fact the safer, saner approach. Not that I use it, but neither can I afford the capital required to daily trade against every possibility in the markets.
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