I received a lease in the mail from an oil and gas corporation actively buying leases in Athens County. It looks a lot like the old leases that we know from our grandparents or our neighbors’ grandparents. But deep shale drilling with horizontal hydraulic fracturing is very different from what we know from the past.

So if you’re thinking about signing this lease, please be aware of the lack of protection it provides for your land and the land around you. Nor does the law adequately protect you.

The lease gives the driller the right to use any part of the surface, without acreage limits, and without liability for damages to agricultural fields, gardens, timber resources, roadways, and fences and doesn’t limit proximity to farm buildings. Ohio law requires a 100-150 foot setback from a residence.

There’s no negotiation for the landowner in this lease — for location of drilling, storage structures, roads, pipelines and power lines, no limits on the size and scope of operations and, if you require legal protection and lose, the lease agreement makes the landowner liable for the legal fees of the corporation.

Sludge that comes up on site can be shallow buried and the liquid waste stored in temporary ponds without fencing, which can overflow with heavy rainfall. The sludge is not just dirt and brackish water. It’s laced with chemicals — including carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors — and a high level of radioactivity, because there’s radioactivity in deep shale layers, which comes up in the “produced water.” Millions of gallons of wastewater laced with chemicals and radioactivity come back up.

People report misrepresentations in lease negotiations. Friendly company representatives told several landowners that they wouldn’t put harmful chemicals into the ground — nothing stronger than Dawn dishwashing liquid. They laughed at the suggestion of radioactivity in the sludge and wastewater.

The drilling process requires hundreds of truckloads of water — 2 to 10 million gallons of water per well, according to USEPA. Water must be transported in by huge trucks impacting fragile county and township roads or, at driller’s option, it can be taken from the land — from ponds, streams, rivers, underground aquifers.

It’s the lucky ones who will have their well water replaced after it’s contaminated — turned brown and oily, or infused with gas that lights with a match, because, throughout the U.S., industry has claimed there’s no “proof” their drilling caused it. To prove it requires, at a minimum, expensive testing before and during the drilling process, by a certified laboratory.

“Proving” that livestock is killed from exposure to wastewater overflowing from ponds or spilled into creeks requires proof of the chemical effect on the livestock. The company, however, is not required to disclose the make-up of its chemical mix, which it claims is proprietary. Where compensation for contamination of drinking water and killing of livestock has occurred, it’s often been in agreements with secrecy stipulations, so that the public doesn’t hear about the case once it’s settled.

There’s a lot more to think about. Having recently visited a hydrofracked area in Wetzel County, W.Va., local business owner Christine Hughes reports looking out over ridgetops bulldozed flat and reshaped with dirt from the surrounding landscape. In North Dakota, where drilling focuses on oil shale, as is likely in Athens County, there is “flaring” or burning off of large quantities of natural gas that is mixed with oil, causing significant air pollution. Volatile organic compounds and other drilling chemicals become air borne with wastewater storage. Rural areas where fracking has become common now have air quality worse than major cities.

The noise from these huge operations is enormously invasive.

If you recognize the risks and you still want to lease, take a look at the model lease that Rural Action is soon to publish. It has provisions that can help protect the landowner from some of the problems listed above and will be available at  http://lookbeforeyoulease.wordpress.com or call Rural Action at 767-4938.

This industry, the horizontal hydraulic fracking industry, is exempt from the Clean Water Act, The Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the RCRA, which regulates hazardous waste, by the Energy Act of 2005. On the state level, we don’t have legal protections. Whether or not we’ve agreed with their enactment, we expect regulations to protect us from severe damage to our land and health. Please be aware of the risks to our lands, livelihoods and health in present day oil and gas leasing.

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Nancy Pierce is an Athens County resident with a great fondness for its land and its people. She has worked in the past in the legal profession and as a mental health therapist.

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