Fracking could be forced on owners of land

Aug. 29, 2013 @ 08:06 PM

RALEIGH — A study committee is recommending a rule that could force some North Carolina home owners to sell natural gas under their homes and farm land.

The study group created by the state Mining and Energy Commission recommended using a rarely used 1945 law for what's called forced or compulsory pooling when permits are allowed for shale gas exploration, or fracking, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported (http://bit.ly/17lZp1A ).

Wednesday's recommendation is now headed to the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which is required to make its own recommendations to two legislative panels by Oct. 1. The General Assembly would ultimately have the final say over the rules.

Forced pooling is designed to protect local residents from inadvertently having gas under their property siphoned away without receiving compensation and prevents neighbors from profiting for what's under someone else's land. Fracking opponents also are prevented from blocking the ability of their neighbors to sell their natural gas.

Thousands of property owners could be affected in North Carolina's gas-rich Lee, Moore and Chatham counties.

The study group recommended that at least 90 percent of acreage of a drilling area be voluntarily leased before remaining property owners are forcibly pooled. They also want safeguards instituted that would make property owners forced into pools immune from lawsuits against accidents or other damages.

The group included four members of the Mining and Energy Commission, including panel Chairman James Womack, who sounded conflicted over the rules.

"The problem we have with the passion to protect private property is that you're giving power to certain individuals to shut down the industry," said Womack, a member of the Lee County commission as well. "This is my district. There are a lot of folks out there who are still uncertain. They can make it so difficult that industry won't come."

Therese Vick with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League told the study group it's wrong to take away what she called personal freedoms to benefit a for-profit industry. "Personal freedoms are seldom on the radar when the gas companies come to town," she said.

The group Wednesday also agreed that property owners who are forced into a pool of property owners should be given the option of accepting a standard 12.5 percent royalty on the value of their prorated share of the gas. Another option could be to pay them a fraction of the value of the gas until the property owner's presumed share of the expense of well drilling is paid off.

The legislature directed state regulators to create rules for fracking and horizontal drilling in the state by Oct. 1. 2014. Lawmakers would have to take future legislative action before the first permits are issued.