A false dichotomy
July 5, 2012 —
A resolution was recently passed in the Town of Delaware that seems innocent on the face of it—maybe even freedom-affirming. It says that “any landowner or entity that owns the rights to minerals within the corporate bounds of the Town of Delaware, has the right to determine how they exercise and protect their mineral rights.”
Who could disagree with such a thing? Obviously, though it nowhere mentions natural gas drilling, it is designed to facilitate natural gas leasing, but so what? After all, it clearly implies that those who do not wish to exploit their mineral rights do not have to do so, just as those who wish to do so can.
But the resolution is disingenuous to the extent that the legal and political context within which it falls give it quite a different—indeed an opposite—de facto meaning than that which it bears on its surface. In context, it has the effect of compelling one group of property owners to do something they don’t wish to do in order to satisfy the wishes of another group. This type of argument is so common when the topic of gas drilling comes up that it is worthwhile unraveling why it doesn’t stand up.
To begin with, New York State’s compulsory integration law renders the idea that some people can chose not to give up their mineral rights null and void. In New York, if a natural gas company can claim that it has leased 60% of the land in a unit (640 acres), it can force the other landowners in the unit to supply their minerals, in the form of natural gas, to the company too. So in practice, in New York State, there is no way to support one group of landowners in doing what they want with their land without denying that right to another group.
Of course, a ban on drilling would do just that, the other way round. But it is deceptive to claim that you are adopting a resolution because you are a passionate supporter of property rights when, in fact, that very resolution undermines the property rights of many landowners—just not the ones you favor.