The meeting held in South Canaan’s municipal building on Wednesday night had a dual purpose. The first was described by meeting organizer Tom Daschke as ‘bringing people up to a common level’ on the thorny and sometimes divisive topic of natural gas leasing. The second was a unique opportunity to get an update on the progress of the elusive Northern Wayne Property Owner’s Alliance.


The meeting held in South Canaan’s municipal building on Wednesday night had a dual purpose. The first was described by meeting organizer Tom Daschke as ‘bringing people up to a common level’ on the thorny and sometimes divisive topic of natural gas leasing. The second was a unique opportunity to get an update on the progress of the elusive Northern Wayne Property Owner’s Alliance.


“The work the Alliance has accomplished has been extraordinary, Marian (Schweighofer) is a real barn-burner,” Daschke said. “There have been days when she’s worked for sixteen, eighteen hours trying to get this all together.”


The results speak for themselves. According to Daschke, the NWPOA has signed up more than 70,000 acres of farmland, acres which could be sitting atop the most profitable natural gas fields in North America.


“The NWPOA did the same thing that the landmen (representatives from natural gas companies or investors) did; they went to the courthouse, researched land ownership, made maps,” Daschke said. “They broke the 70,000 acres into 3,000 acre plots, and appointed representatives of those plots. Now the steering committee can bargain with the natural gas companies from a position of power.”


It hasn’t always been easy. With help from visiting attorney Jeffrey Belardi, Daschke explained that the NWPOA has faced a lot of opposition from the natural gas companies themselves.


“There’s been a lot of rumor mongering, a lot of trying to get to think their neighbors have already signed leases and are getting a better deal than they are...I don’t think they realized what a tight-knit community they were dealing with up in Damascus,” Daschke said. “We hear the stories and we laugh at them, because we know the truth.”


“The thing you have to remember about these contracts is that they’ve been written by lawyers and perfected over a hundred years,” said Belardi. “They want you to go it alone with them....but the benefit of a group is they can get a legal team together. Once you organize, economies of scale take over and change the dynamic.”


The beginnings of an economy of scale were in attendance at the meeting and listening to every word. Many of the attendees — approximately 75 in all — had not yet heard from a landman, and indeed some had had no idea before the meeting that there was any interest in leasing mineral rights this far south.


“I hadn’t even heard of any interest in properties below route 6 before this,” said one audience member.


“Yeah, one person told me how a landman approached her and said there was probably no chance of drilling this far south, but that they’d sign her up for a lease anyway,” laughed Belardi. “I have news for you. If they didn’t think there was gas down here, they wouldn’t be here.”


Today, on the eve of what looks like a land grab which could encompass properties as far south as the Lackawanna Valley, residents in the southern part of Wayne County who have only followed the drama up north in the newspapers have some tough decisions to make.


“When Lakeville and Cherry Ridge started hearing from landmen, a bunch of landowners there got together and organized their own 3,000 acre plot,” said Daschke. “Now, we can go that route, or we can go it alone, or we can choose to work with the NWPOA.”


Daschle, a member along with Marian Schweighofer of the Wayne County Farm Bureau, provided a sign-up sheet for people interested in forming an organization.
For more information, Daschke can be reached at tdaschke@socantel.net.