My view

Fracking, land ownership

By JOHN PACE
Posted 5/17/22

Reaching back to antiquity, the notion of private property brings order to the distribution of landholdings by establishing both definitive ownership and the recorded ownership history. Today, a massive body of settled case law continues to grow around the often-complex nuances of property rights.

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My view

Fracking, land ownership

Posted

Reaching back to antiquity, the notion of private property brings order to the distribution of landholdings by establishing both definitive ownership and the recorded ownership history. Today, a massive body of settled case law continues to grow around the often-complex nuances of property rights. But in a variety of instances, the concept of conceptual boundaries of land ownership clarifies little and may even cause confusion.

Certainly, nature does not recognize property rights. Forest fires are not owned by any particular landowner and I can’t recall anyone ever claiming private ownership of a fire—even if the fire began on their land. Floods too behave as though property lines don’t exist; they are as merely another abstract contrivance to be physically washed away in the deluge. And then there are the implications of the landowner’s actions on his land with respect to all of the rest of us. 

Downstream

No, the law says you can’t just build a nuclear reactor on your land, or more likely, willy-nilly dump your septic waste into a stream passing through your property. Even if you should simply construct a bridge over a stream passing through your land, you must exclude the debris and filter the disturbed sediment from the bridge site to the downstream; i.e. the water that you would send to humans and habitat alike. The water table under your property is also the same as that which exists under your neighbor’s property. The idea that you—or more likely an oil company—could frack the shale deep under one property without the leaked and released wastewater, including highly concentrated salts, arsenic, carcinogens, radioactivity, et al. contaminating the common water table, is ludicrous, a kind of magical thinking. Which brings me to:

Why Fritz wants to frack

PA Rep. Fritz claims that “we [the oil and gas industry] have natural gas laterals… [Fracking] can stay away from the Delaware River.” (River Reporter, April 14-20) The idea that a fouled or contaminated water table will obey property boundaries in what is, after all, a topographically low point river basin (recall, it is the Delaware River Basin Commission) is neither a viable nor a well-thought-out proposal. But it is no doubt popular with some of the representative’s constituents. 

I think it is most likely that Fritz wants to win an election and build his political career. Most fundamentally, that is why he “wants to frack.” The fracking legislation (PA House bills 2450 and 2451) he has introduced is a package largely pandering to Republican voters. It is also anything but “fair” (River Reporter, May 5-11) to the health of millions of people and to our critically stressed environment. 

Amidst spiking prices, with over 9,600 drilling permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management (www.doi.gov), oil companies’ drilling efforts continue to be, at most, reluctant. Leaving aside politics, how do proposals to allow fracking help? At most, they are backward-looking and don’t address the issues of energy independence. But some people would rather have votes than go beyond vacuous proposals that simply do not suffice.

John Pace lives in Honesdale, PA.

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