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When It Comes To Natural Gas, Whose Backyard Is My Backyard, Really?

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"When It Comes To Natural Gas, Whose Backyard Is My Backyard, Really?"

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fracking Ohio

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

As New York State’s highest court agrees to hear arguments over whether or not towns have the authority to ban fracking within their city limits, North Carolina landowners are learning that they may be forced to permit fracking on their property even against their wishes.

Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ is the process of extracting oil and natural gas using a high pressure stream of chemicals and fluids. As natural gas production skyrockets across the country, communities are becoming increasingly concerned about the strain fracking places on local water supplies and the threat it poses to their health and safety. Others want to cash in on the boom.

In both states, the question revolves around the right of a private property owner to decide what happens on his or her land. In New York, the case centers on a dairy farmer who wants to lease land to a natural gas company, but cannot because of a city-wide fracking ban. In North Carolina, conversely, it’s landowners balking at the idea that they have to sell the natural gas under their property just because their neighbors have chosen to do so.

In North Carolina, the proposal by a state study group, expected to be enacted by the legislature this fall, is known as forced or compulsory pooling and allows drilling companies to tap the natural gas reserves under people’s property, even if the landowners oppose.

The study group recommended that ninety percent of the acreage in a drilling unit be voluntarily leased before property owners within a typical one square mile drilling unit would be forced to sell the natural gas under their land but, as the News and Observer points out, the state legislature ultimately has the final say.

There are already a handful of states with forced pooling laws, including Arkansas, where only one percent of land in a drilling unit needs to be voluntarily leased, and Virginia, which requires that gas companies get at least 25 percent of land freely agreed to by property owners. Other states, such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia have banned forced pooling laws completely.

Critics of forced pooling say it is a kind of eminent domain where only a private company profits.

“We are talking about a for-profit industry taking away personal freedoms with the blessing of the government,” Therese Vick, a community activist with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, told the Compulsory Pooling Study Group. “Personal freedoms are seldom on the radar when the gas companies come to town.”

Of course, this is essentially the same argument being used to argue for fracking in towns that don’t want it in New York.

Just how landowners who don’t want natural gas extraction on their property will be financially compensated for the natural gas taken, is another sticky issue. Unlike their next door neighbors who hold contracts and carefully negotiated leasing agreements, property owners who are forced to sell their gas haven’t agreed to a price, or anything else for that matter.

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