A seminar outlined the potential benfits natural gas drilling could bring to Wayne County.
Fields. Plays. Gushers and Dusters. Wildcat wells. These words, spoken by the educators from the Penn State Cooperative Extension at their informative meeting on natural gas leasing, describe the dicey and exciting world of mineral prospecting. They sound as romantic as the cuirasses and dolopes of knights and nobles from ages past, and conjure upmuch the same associations; wealth and easy living that comes not from work, but instead right from the earth. And the earth in question could be found right here in Wayne County, if local landowners choose to sign leases for their natural gas rights and take a chance on striking it rich.
“If you’re asking my personal bias, I’m for leasing.” These were the words Tom Murphy, Lycoming County Extension Director, spoke in an interview with the Independent during that Monday evening meeting, attended by well over 100 people. “But that’s not what this meeting’s about. This meeting is about educating people so they can make an informed decision about their land and rights.”
An unfortunate coincidence of timing may have made this a more difficult process. Owing, Murphy said, to a scheduling mistake, the Gas Leasing Workshop took place concurrently with the Damascus Board of Supervisor’s monthly meeting. Not only did this make for a noisy and crowded community center, but it also meant citizens could not attend both - and supervisors could not be present at a meeting walking their citizens through one of the more momentous property decisions they will ever make.
Nonetheless, the Penn State educators put on a concise, yet comprehensive program, which touched on many of the salient points facing a lessor, or property owner. These points could be confusing at times.
“You’ll be leasing the rights by parcel; a parcel is a set amount of acreage which may or may not be the same size as your property,” said Earle Robbins, Tioga County Extension Director. “The process is much like selling timber.”
The ‘timber’ in question is most likely to be Marcellus Shale, a high-yield Devonian shale which is commonly found between 7800 and 8100 below the surface. Much was made early in the meeting of the profitability of Marcellus Shale, which included comparing it to Barnett Shale in the famously mineral-rich fields of North Texas. But an even more exciting possibility is that our area will contain some of the famed Trenton-Black River play, an ancient Ordovician roverbed whose wells have sometimes spouted over $30 million in six months. Or, they could come up dry.
“Remember, leasing is speculative,” said Robbins. The PowerPoint slde behind him as he said these words showed a large pair of dice. Many of the other slides were full of commonsense advice for the lessor:
• Understand the affiliations of the lessees, or ‘landmen,’ approaching with leases—while some are from natural gas companies, others are speculators or independent brokers who might be looking to turn a profit on the mineral rights themselves.
• Protect the ‘Intended Use’ rights on the land; this ensures you can continue to enjoy your property for such activities as hunting or fishing even after leasing.
• Consider negotiating as a group with neighbors; one property owner has much less leverage than many owners whose property is adjacent.
• Above all, remember that this lease is a legal document, and as such should only be signed after consultation with a lawyer who specializes in mineral rights.
Overall, the prognosis was good for the landowners; the presenters focused on the unique benefits of gas wells in our area, which include economic benefits for lessors and a plentiful, steady supply of power with little transportation cost for all citizens. Only time will tell if the suggested rewards will bear fruit.