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Forced Pooling Threatens Landowners’ Rights, Ability to Protect Water and Quality of Life

Clean Water for North Carolina ~ Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League ~ Haw River Assembly ~ Pee Dee Water, Air, Land and Lives

For immediate Release August 27, 2013

Contact:  Hope Taylor, Clean Water for NC

Forced Pooling Threatens Landowners’ Rights, Ability to Protect Water and Quality of Life
Final Meeting of Compulsory Pooling Study Group to be held Wed. 1 PM in Raleigh

Compulsory pooling, or “forced pooling,” is used by oil and gas companies to force unleased or non-consenting landowners into allowing access to their oil and gas resources. “Never has there been a clearer threat to small landowners and renters in areas where gas extraction could occur,” says Hope Taylor of Clean Water for North Carolina, which works with rural communities for safe drinking water. “Forced pooling amounts to a government body, in this case the Mining and Energy Commission, telling you, in the interests of oil and gas operators, that you have noright to prevent gas extraction under your land.”

Clean Water for NC staff and volunteers have talked to many residents in rural areas in the state’s shale basins, being looked at for gas. At least 14 counties may be impacted directly, stretching from Granville and Durham southwest to Anson and Montgomey, and including Stokes and Rockingham northwest of the Triad.  Even after the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 820 last summer to allow hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” and horizontal drilling to access gas resources, many landowners still don’t realize that current state law could allow drilling access to their subsurface gas even if they don’t sign a lease. At Wednesday afternoon’s Compulsory Pooling Study Group meeting, the discussion will focus on two of the key conditions under which “forced pooling” could be approved by the Mining and Energy Commission.

The percentage of land leased for gas that surrounds a landowner’s property will be critical for determining how many smaller landowners  will be forced to allow extraction. Lee, Moore and Chatham Counties, likely to be the focus of drilling interest, all have many more small properties than other places where “fracking” has occurred. Even if 90 or 95% of land in a 320 or 640 acre “drilling unit” was required to be leased to implement forced pooling, many small landowners could still be impacted. A draft report for the Study Group, with figures explaining this vulnerability for small landowners, is available as a pdf file in the Aug. 28 agenda for the Compulsory Pooling Study Group at: http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mining-and-energy-commission/compulsorypooling-8-28-2013

Many states also seek to prevent landowners from holding out in leasing their land for drilling unit by enacting a “risk penalty” for unleased owners who are force-pooled. That penalty could require such owners to pay two or three times their share of an oil or gas operator’s production costs, cutting into any royalty payments from gas sales. “No matter what side of the fence people are on concerning fracking, this is just plain wrong,” says Therese Vick of Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. Denise Lee of Pee Dee Water, Air, Land and Lives agrees, “The term forced pooling alone should concern residents. Forced for what? To make it easier for the gas industry to profit by removing our rights to say no. This is not what our forefathers intended.”

“Forced pooling is just one more way that fracking creates injustice in communities.”  says  Elaine Chiosso, Haw Riverkeeper based in Chatham County “It gives no choice to landowners who want to protect the waters beneath them, and the  drinking water wells their families rely on.”  Continues Taylor, “Toxic air pollution, traffic, noise and loss of control are other fracking impacts experienced by many communities. Forced pooling only makes that worse,  saying you can’t prevent the drilling if you’re surrounded by mostly leased land, and then you face a big penalty that could prevent you from getting any economic benefit from an unproven, and probably very small, gas resource!” In 2012, the US Geological Survey reduced estimates of the state’s gas resource to less than a six year supply if it is all kept in NC.

Landowners and others potentially impacted by forced pooling are urged to contact members of the Compulsory Pooling Study Group at tomorrow’s 1:00 PM meeting in the Green Square Training Room, 217 W. Jones St. Raleigh, or by contacting members of the Study Group click here for contact info.

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