Western PA landowners regret deep gas wells deals

Western PA landowners regret deep gas wells deals

Gasses bubbling out of the ground and into drinking wells and ponds


WASHINGTON COUNTY, PA - At first, farmer Ron Gulla and horse farm owner Joyce Mitchell were excited about the prospect of making money from gas drilling. Now, after more than two years of the presence of drilling companies with their heavy trucks and huge drill rigs, they and many of their neighbors wish they had never signed a lease.

“They say one thing to you when they want you to sign, and quite another thing when you’ve signed your land over to them and they begin to do what they want to it,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the gas company?Range Resources, a subsidiary of Halliburton?told her they would drill only one well. Then, when gas was discovered in a nearby well, they came in and drilled four over her and her husband’s objections.

“Our lawyer said to go along with them since they have so many lawyers on their side that we could never win,” she said.

The Mitchells receive about $900 a year for all four wells, not $900 apiece, she said. “They’re very secretive about everything, are arrogant and tell you nothing,” she said.

Last January, they told her that they struck gas on her property. “That was nearly four months ago and we’ve received nothing,” she said. Her contract is for 14 percent. She doesn’t know whether it’s from the total gas amount or from the net profit. “We’re at their mercy and have to trust them.”

Gulla, has had his 141-acre farm destroyed by the drilling, he said. His water well gets muddy whenever it rains, which never occurred before the drilling. The water in his pond is brackish and he has had a fish kill.

“People are getting methane in their well like I am,” he said. “It’s happening all around me.”

Down the road from him, Emil Alexander, a retired farmer, has had some bad experiences as well.

“Gas started welling up in the middle of my fields,” he said. “I could only see it when it rained and you could see it bubbling up.”

Alexander complained to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and they came out but didn’t do a whole lot, he said.

“There was so much gas around that they put monitors up in my house and told me that I might have to move out until the problem was resolved,” he said. “I really don’t want to move.”

The cause of the escaping gas was unknown to the DEP. “They said it might be from another old well that was drilled years ago,” he said. “When they drill a well, they put a whole lot of pressure down the well and I guess the gas gets loose and comes to the surface. Something comes to the surface; whether it’s natural gas or methane makes no difference to me. I just want my air and water to be clear.”

Another neighbor, who withheld his name because he was afraid of reprisals, said his well water started to show a dark color. When he complained to the DEP, they only tested for ordinary things like pH, sodium and hard water. “They didn’t test for chemicals and other things that might be in the well drilling fluids,” he said. “When I complained to the company about the color in the water and said that it was caused by a drilling well on another property near to mine, they said, ‘Prove it.’”

Before drilling is begun, a landowner should have the water tested for baseline items, he said. “The only problem is that such tests can be very costly.”

Gulla, Alexander and Mitchell said that the drilling companies are ruining their once bucolic countryside. “The worst part of it is that the damage they are doing can never be reversed,” Gulla said. “It is forever.”

Contributed photo  
Stone dust gushes into the air on a horse farm in Hickory, PA from a gas drilling rig. The dust, which was released for several hours on April 6, filled the valley across many acres and was breathed in by family members and by the owner’s horses. It ceased when the owner went to the site complaining and taking pictures. (Click for larger version)

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