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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.

It seems worth repeating, especially in relation to New York

Barbara Arrindell, and I, studied ownership, and leasing, in Damascus Township, PA. The results of our study are repeated throughout both New York State, and Pennsylvania.

We chose Damascus Township, not only because many of our group, Damascus Citizens, live there, but because it was then, and is now, the home of the former leader, and current leader, along with much of the membership, of Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance. It is also rural, residential, with little to no heavy industrial footprint, so shale gas extraction would radically, irrevocably, and swiftly, transform the face of the Township, in ways that would be beyond anyone's control, except the drilling companies, and the market place.

The leadership of this group, frequently, falsely, and arrogantly, portrayed that the vast majority of residents in our Township, ardently wanted the shale gas extraction industry to operate freely, under the very few, existing rules, except those defined by the "free market". Any regulation by PADEP, was, and remains, essentially, relegated to the back end of the equation, that is, after the contamination, or violations, occurred.

Nothing in the regulations, or enforcement, touch the possiblility of PREVENTION, or PROTECTION from contamination.

The results of our study (and other grass roots performed ones showed similar results), established that just under 33% of the individual owners of property in Damascus Township had leased for drilling, while 67% had not. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, this 33% that had leased, owned 69% of the surface land in the Township. This 33% that owned 69% of the surface, however, was assessed at only 39% of the tax base.

When one combines these percentages, with forced integration into drilling units, BASED ON LAND SURFACE OWNERSHIP, as in New York, it creates an outrageous inequality. If a hunting club that owns 1,500 acres, and pays at an assessed rate of only $111 per acre in taxes, abuts 40 homes that pay an assessed rate of $14,000 per acre each, and who only own 1 to 3 acres each, the ratio of citizens that own property, and homes, who are forced into drilling, compared to the "not for profit corporation", AKA "the hunting club", the vast majority of whose membership do not even live within the township, is an astoundingly unjust equation.

Do the lessors really think this pig, with lipstick or without, is going to fly in the long run?

False dichotomy

Many thanks for presenting us with a brilliant, balanced, and reasonable response to those who masquerade as selfless and valiant saviors and defenders of property rights by purporting to be "neutral" about gas drilling, all the while ignoring the flaws, errors, and hypocrisy that permeate their rhetoric.