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Fracking operations may start in Pennsylvania against landowners' will

Published time: March 31, 2014 20:27
AFP Photo / David McNew

AFP Photo / David McNew

​An energy company is hoping to use a little-used, 53-year-old Pennsylvania law in order to launch a fracking operation on land even if landowners oppose the action.

The incident revolves around a potential oil and gas site in New Bedford, Pennsylvania, where four landowners have refused to sign leases authorizing a new drilling operation by Texas-based Hilcorp Energy.

According to the company, 99 percent of the area’s landowners have signed leases permitting the operation in exchange for cash and royalties, but the holdouts – representing 35 of the 3,267 acres in limbo – have been adamant in their refusal to budge.

“I didn't buy this land to sell it,” said Bob Svetlak to the Trib Live newspaper group. “I bought it for peace and property, like a lot of people in this country. I live here for the tranquility.”

Despite Svetlak’s protestations, though, Hilcorp is arguing that a 1961 state law allows the company to lump all the landowners into one group and earn drilling authorization if most of those owners approve of the operation. Known as “forced pooling,” the move would enable the company to earn gas and oil rights even if some owners are opposed to the idea.

If Hilcorp’s maneuvering is successful, Trib Live reports it will likely cause a flood of outrage among Pennsylvania residents, who one expert suggested are not generally aware that such a law exists. Even Governor Tom Corbett, who supports new drilling operations, stated his opposition to forced pooling in 2011.

Whether or not Hilcorp succeeds, however depends on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. According to Think Progress, the agency was ordered to rule on the matter in November. A hearing was scheduled last week, but was ultimately postponed. A new date has yet to be set.

Speaking with the New York Times, one pro-Hilcorp landowner, Bruce Clingan, expressed frustration that four people could stall the deal. He signed a lease with the company for $500,000 and 18 percent royalties for future drilling on his land.

“I don’t understand how people that own four acres of ground can hold up such a big thing,” he said. “I don’t agree with that.”

“I paid taxes on this property for probably 60 years,” Clingan added to Trib Live. “And I thought, ‘Well, maybe the ground owes me a little bit of something — moneywise — back.' If anybody tells you it's not the money, they're crazy.”

However, that's exactly what another landowner, Suzanne Matteo, is saying.

“It's not about the money for us. We want peace; we want clean air. And now (drilling is) going to be forced on us,” she said. “It's almost like Hilcorp is bullying me and targeting me and other landowners. It doesn't seem constitutional.”

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