MDN Responds to a Reader’s Questions

Below is an email MDN recently received from a reader. I thought it would be instructive to share both the reader’s original email and my response so newer readers of MDN have a better understanding of what this blog is about, and the “angle” from which it comes with it’s coverage and commentary. Here is the reader’s email to MDN (the “sic” references below indicate where there are misspellings in the original email to me):

I have recently read an article on, “Marcellus Drilling News,” entitled “Gas well blowout in Clearfield County, PA causes ‘modest’ environmental damage.”  I am currently obtaining my Masters of Science in Environmental Policy, and I have a few questions/ comments/ suggestions for this article in particular.  Although the article is informative to the extent it was intended, there are a few journalistic traps that you have wandered into.

First, the rhetoric of the “Anti-drillers” and “Mainstream media” is a tired plea for attention.  Those who want to believe the “mainstream media” will believe them, and those who wish to get their news from their uncle Lenny are going to do so as well, regardless of what an article communicates.  News releases, in my opinon [sic], lose strength when the closing statement bashes the media, and establishes apples to oranges comparisons, which leads me to my next point.

Comparing environmental degredation [sic] and drilling accidents to car accidents is a comparison that has absolutly [sic] no relavence [sic].  This ‘statistic’ (used loosley [sic]) is meaningless.  This is not unlike making the statement, “Hotdogs are one of the leading causes of choking among children, how many children choke on phonebooks, ZERO! Take this as a lesson and feed you child the yellow pages today.”  I know that this is a bit of an exageration [sic], but it is not too far off the comparison that was made in this article.

Lastly the wording downplaying the fracking fluid’s chemical contents by using a very sneaky “(mostly water)” comment.  Even though chemicals only compose 1% of the fracking fluid in drilling operations, this accident released nearly 350 gallons of pure chemicals, most of which are unknown.

In closing, in order to be a more reliable source of news for a public that is obtaining more “liberal education” (see how that takes away from the content of the letter), it would behoove Marcellus Drilling News to leave out these quips I have mentioned above.  If you would like to see how a news report should look, I have attached a shortened research report written by me on Marcellus law and policy in New York and Pennsylvania that you could post on your site.

There is one question that is on my mind and could also be another suggestion.  I would like to know where funding for this site originates.

Thank you for your time in reading this,

And here was my response:

Thanks for your email and research paper. I will take time to read it. I appreciate all comments, even from those who disagree with my own views. MDN is a blog site, I have a point of view, I express it. There is no funding for the site—it is a labor of love on my part. I receive no money from anyone for it. I work in a completely different (non-energy) industry and this is a “hobby” taking only an investment of my time (which I’ve had precious little of recently, hence few updates). As I’ve stated in comments on the site before, I reserve the right to run advertising on the site at some future date—but that in no way affects my opinions or coverage.

I feel, passionately, that environmental extremism coupled with ignorance is behind most anti-drilling sentiment, and I aim to counter-balance it with MDN. I believe drilling can be done safely. Zero accidents? Nope. We can’t expect it from ANY human endeavor—it’s just not a reasonable viewpoint. Safe enough? A resounding YES. That’s where I “come from” with my reporting and opinions. I’m not a journalist so I don’t worry about falling into journalistic traps. I understand my commentary tends to grate sometimes…I try and keep a balance with what I report and keep snide remarks to a minimum. But blogs do take positions and make no apologies for the positions they take.

Chances are if we were to meet on the street, in a store or at university, we would quite possibly be friends. I have good friends who are on the other side of the fence on this and many other issues. I’m not an unreasonable person, nor avaricious. I don’t stand to make money from leasing land—I only have 2/3 of an acre in a residential neighborhood! At its very core, the struggle in New York is over private property rights and liberty—the right to do with your land as you see fit, provided it does not harm others. Gas drilling does not harm people nor the environment. Does it affect the environment? Sure—but it’s limited, and believe it or not, clearing some trees and drilling a hole in the ground, and even pumping a few million gallons of water with chemicals, does not irreparably damage Mother Earth and it certainly does not pollute drinking water supplies. I encourage you to dig deeper in your own research and not fall prey to the standard environmentalist party line.

I hope this helps you understand a bit more about MDN and the writer behind it. Thanks for reading MDN, and thanks for taking the time to write.

Jim Willis
Editor, MDN

Forced Pooling – An Issue Coming to the Forefront in Pennsylvania

Now that a severance tax is coming to Pennsylvania, natural gas drillers will likely push for a provision called “forced pooling” in PA which makes it easier to gather gas from properties that are not leased but sit in-between other leased land.

The Marcellus Shale natural gas industry wants to see legislation attached to any severance tax adopted by the state that would force property owners who refuse leases to allow drillers to gather the gas beneath their land, an industry coalition leader said Monday.

Calling it the most economical and conservative land-use approach to drilling for gas, David Spigelmyer, Chesapeake Energy’s regional vice president for government relations, said in a Times-Shamrock newspapers editorial board meeting that “forced pooling” is a key element of any legislation the state’s Marcellus drillers could support and is actively being discussed during budget negotiations in the capital.

Such a statute would help avoid an unnecessary proliferation of wells, Spigelmyer said, but critics say it is a form of eminent domain.*

This is an unresolved and complex issue that’s about to become red hot in PA. There are strong arguments on both sides. MDN believes landowners should have the right to allow drilling on and under their land provided it does not harm nearby populations or the environment. It is the constitutional right for citizens of this country to use their land as they see fit. On the other hand, to force a landowner who does not want to lease their land into a pool with their neighbors who have leased, is also unfair. If it means a proliferation of wells and added expense, so be it. The drilling company will have to bear the cost. Citizens should not have to worry that portions of their property will be used against their will—both on the surface and under it. It’s wrong to stop drilling based on irrational fear (as is being done in New York), and it’s equally wrong for drillers to force landowners to allow drilling under their land.

What do you think about forced pooling? Leave a comment below and let us know.

*Wilkes-Barre Citizen’s Voice (June 29) – Gas industry wants access to unleased property

PA Budget Deal Approved: Marcellus Landowners are the Losers

Pennsylvania has just reached a new budget agreement for the next fiscal year, weighing in at a staggering $28.05 billion. Those who smoke cigars and use smokeless tobacco can breathe easier (or perhaps not)—your bad habit has escaped the tax man yet again this year. There are no state taxes on cigars and smokeless tobacco. But if you’re a landowner who’s getting royalty payments, you’re about to get soaked. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before the politicians, who can’t resist taxing everything under the sun, would not be able to resist a severance tax on gas drilling. It’s now happened:

The [budget] agreement calls for the Legislature to enact a severance tax on natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale by Oct. 1, Rendell said, with the tax becoming effective Jan. 1, 2011. He said he would like to see a tax rate close to West Virginia’s, which is roughly 6 percent.*

It makes no difference if the tax is levied on the drilling company or not—ultimately this tax will come out of the pockets of landowners because expenses are always passed back. Oh well, it was a good run while it lasted. At least they’re drilling in PA!

*Pittsburgh Business Times (June 29) – Rendell: Pa. reaches budget agreement