AlliedNews.com - Grove City, Pennsylvania

Local News

December 7, 2012

Shale educators: Be careful, hire a lawyer

Seismic tests, pipelines discussed

MERCER COUNTY — Mercer County landowners got a two-hour lesson Thursday about seismic testing and pipeline agreements related to the controversial gas and oil drilling activity headed here.

"The devil is in the details," Dan Brockett told a crowd of about 25 in regard to contracts for seismic testing and pipeline installation.

Brockett and Jon Laughner, Penn State Marcellus Education Team educators, presented the workshop at Penn State Cooperative Extension, Coolspring Township.

Before you sign anything - leasing rights to your land for seismic testing, drilling or pipelines - work with an attorney to settle a contract that's right for you, Brockett said, adding he and Laughner hold workshops for educational purposes, not to give legal advice.

Laughner explained seismic testing and how the 2-D version shows a single slice of earth to crews looking for Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits deep underground, sending shock waves through vibrating plates lowered to the ground from a line of trucks.

The 3-D testing involves explosive charges being buried and detonated, creating more precise results from the vibrations.

Laughner said he's found seismic testing companies are willing to work with landowners' requests to avoid using equipment on certain parts of their property, as long as it's in the contract. If a landowner already signed a lease for gas and oil drilling, seismic testing could help determine where the best drilling spot is located, he said.

"Then it benefits perhaps the landowner and the gas company," he said.

The 2-D testing is often done on public roads and without the need to enter private property while 3-D testing is more invasive and requires the landowner's permission.

Be prepared to identify parts of your land where you want crews to avoid, like a water source, crops or an area where you keep livestock, Laughner said.

"Or do you have an area where kids are all the time?" he asked.

The contract can also include an order that you be notified in advance of when the testing will happen and a section about refilling detonated holes and restoring your land back to its original state with the costs being covered by the company.

"I don't think you do this for the money," Laughner said of the going rate for seismic testing, $5 an acre.

Get names and contact information in case something goes wrong, especially since the crews doing the testing won't be the same people who worked with you on the contract, he said.

When it comes to the contract itself, don't sign a standard agreement put together by the company and don't trust anyone who is pressuring you to sign a deal on the spot.

Brockett talked about pipelines and the right-of-way agreements that gas companies work out with property owners, who need to be sensible about what to anticipate.

"The size means a lot. Pipeline is forever," he said, adding a 50-foot right-of-way might start off as a 75- to 100-foot construction site while the lines are being buried, Brockett said.

Negotiate for the smallest amount of property possible when deciding how much you want to contain pipelines because you're selling your rights to use that land.

Pipe can be bent so the lines can be placed under a hillside; make sure your agreement with the company includes measures to protect those areas from erosion, he said.

Landowners should request that topsoil be kept separate so it can be returned to its original location instead of pressed down into the earth surrounding the pipeline.

Above-ground components also need to be considered, like an item called a pig launcher, which looks like a large foam football and is used to clean pipelines, Brockett said.

Most landowners would want something like that out-of-sight, along with valves used to turn the lines off and on, all of which can be built in an out-of-the-way spot.

Compressor facilities, which are manned 24 hours a day if gas is running, are small buildings placed every five miles in an active Shale area, he said, noting if one is near your land, you can ask for extra sound insulation since they can be noisy.

"They are willing and able to do these things if you press them," he said of working with the companies.

According to an Associated Press story earlier this year, each station emits a mix of pollutants -- volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), formaldehyde and greenhouse gasses -- in varying amounts that are limited by the type of permit governing the site. Nitrogen oxides, which are commonly released in car exhaust and cigarette smoke and by burning fossil fuels, can contribute to respiratory problems and lung damage on their own as well as when they are combined with sunlight and volatile organic compounds to form smog.

Environmental groups have criticized the state in lawsuits, letters to federal regulators and in public comments on proposed permits and regulations arguing that DEP is not doing all it can under the law to limit the amount of pollution the oil and gas facilities are allowed to emit, according to the AP report

"DEP does not have a comprehensive monitoring program to monitor contaminants in the air throughout the shale play regions of the state," PennFuture president and former director of DEP's southwest regional office George Jugovic Jr. said.

"We're not monitoring for VOCs in these rural areas. We're not monitoring for toxics. Having already begun this development, baseline is not really a question anymore. Now the question is can we get monitoring to ensure there are no local or regional impacts as we move forward."

Environmental groups say the state is not using a tool frequently enough that would limit emissions by considering connected wells, pipelines and compressors owned by the same company and built near one another as one pollution source governed by one, stricter permit -- a process called aggregation, according to the AP report.

Brockett said it also helps to plan ahead with your neighbors to ensure the least amount of pipeline work possible is done across multiple properties, and to pinpoint old lines.

A good pipeline agreement should also ensure the company re-seeds your land with materials you deem proper. Landowners should also request a follow-up assessment to have the soil and grass checked in the right-of-way area.

Landowners with pipeline under their property can and should report suspected gas leaks to the gas company and the Public Utility Commission, Brockett said.

You shouldn't feel overwhelmed and pressured to sign an agreement, though.

"Nobody can make you sign that piece of paper. Landowners should always seek legal counsel. This is akin to doing brain surgery on yourself," Brockett said of trying to go it alone to save a few hundred dollars.

He touched on the financial aspect of pipeline contracts, saying landowners shouldn't agree to an "option" that would mean the company pays out when and if they use your land.

It's important to not leave a contract open-ended and the deal should have a start and end date.

The average pay for pipeline right-of-way in this area is $25 to $30 per linear foot. For example, a 50-foot right-of-way at $28 a linear foot would net about $21,775 an acre, Brockett said.

Several people in attendance asked about finding a lawyer; Brockett said it wasn't his place to recommend where they should seek legal advice.

"All the good ones are really busy right now," he said.

He cautioned that hiring an attorney doesn't mean the landowner and can sit back and relax.

"Just because you have a professional does not excuse you from reading or learning," he said, urging landowners to read the contract one paragraph at a time and ask questions.

Several people who attended the workshop declined to give their names or comment after it ended.

For more information about the Extension presentation, call the county office at 724-662-3141 or visit naturalgas.psu.edu

Published Nov. 17, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201A Erie St., Grove City.

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