Leading Anti-Driller Does 180, Signs Lease with Cabot in PA

180 degree turnaroundThis is an astonishing turnaround. Denise Dennis, a very vocal critic of gas drilling and someone who caught national attention two years ago by denouncing natural gas drilling and comparing it to the tobacco industry at a Philadelphia City Council meeting, has just signed a lease with Cabot Oil & Gas to allow drilling under her historic property in Susquehanna County, PA.

Two years ago, Denise Dennis delivered a dramatic denunciation of Marcellus Shale natural gas development at a Philadelphia City Council hearing. She equated drilling to the tobacco industry, and said that "Pennsylvanians are the lab rats" for a massive shale gas experiment.

The Philadelphia resident had a powerful story: Her family owned a historic 153-acre farm in Susquehanna County, where her ancestors were among the first freed African Americans to settle in Pennsylvania just after the Revolutionary War. She became a potent symbol in the shale gas wars.

"The process for extracting natural gas from shale is as dirty as coal mining," she testified to thunderous applause at the 2010 council meeting.

"Wow," said Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who sponsored the hearing.

But Dennis’ fervor has subsided in the last two years, undone by the financial need of preserving her family’s deteriorating historic farm, and by the salesmanship of the Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.

Last week Dennis signed a lease allowing the Houston company to extract the shale gas beneath her family’s farm, which the National Trust for Historic Preservation has called a "rare and highly significant African American cultural landscape."

"I decided to stop demonizing the industry and to start negotiating with individuals," said Dennis. "I had to be realistic."

The reality was that most of the surrounding landowners had leased their mineral rights, and gas drilling was going to proceed with or without the Dennis farm.

"We were an island in a sea of leased land," she said. "As I saw it, the drilling companies were now my neighbors, and it was better to get along with them than to be antagonistic."

The lease, negotiated by the Cherry Hill law firm of Flaster/Greenberg, preserves the Dennis farm by prohibiting Cabot from disturbing the farm’s surface. The company can extract gas only by boring horizontally under the Dennis farm from wells drilled on neighboring land.

Dennis did not disclose the financial terms. But in 2010, she said that gas drillers had offered more than $800,000 for the right to drill. The landowner also receives royalty payments from any gas produced from the property.

The proceeds from the lease will benefit the Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust, the organization that Dennis set up to preserve the farm that has been in her family for seven generations.

"I am trying to do what’s best for the property," she said.

Cabot CEO Dan Dinges heard about Dennis’ farm and its historical significance. He personally met with her and flew her around Susquehanna County in a helicopter to show her the scope of their work, answering her questions.

Dennis discovered many of the things she had heard and thought were true were not. When she finally learned the truth—that gas drilling does not pollute water supplies and all the rest of the rot being pedaled—she changed her mind.

In reading the article you get the impression that Dennis is still skeptical of drilling, but at least she’s now willing to to give it a try:

"Yes, I was vehement," she said. "But where did that get me? And what would not signing have achieved?"

She is aware that some of her former allies will regard her decision as a betrayal.

"You don’t get ideal situations in life," she said.*

Read the entire, astonishing story by clicking the link below.

*Philadelphia Inquirer (Nov 14, 2012) – Former shale gas foe makes a deal to allow drilling on her historic farm