Posts Tagged ‘Ken Balliet’

Gas wells a mixed blessing on property

Lucrative leasing deals are possible for area residents. Negatives: Noise, pollution.

The opportunity won’t come to most Northeastern Pennsylvania landowners, but those offered a natural-gas well will face life-changing effects, both positive and negative.

“It’s going to transform Pennsylvania, there’s no doubt about it,” said Ken Balliet, a Penn State Cooperative Extension director well-versed in gas-lease issues. “This whole Marcellus shale play is highly speculative” for the gas companies, he said, because it’s not very well studied, but landowners who land lucrative deals will see it otherwise. “When you hand someone a check for half a million dollars, that’s not very speculative.”

Add to that well-siting and annual royalty payments, and suddenly the problem becomes trying to find tax havens for the profits.

The tradeoff, however, is an unexpected and sometimes unwelcome bustling of activity — trucks, noise and pollution. Many of the changes will come and go, but some – like a clear-cut well site or a noisy compression station – will remain for decades.

It’s a sacrifice Jerry Riaubia is willing to make on his 16 acres in Sweet Valley – if the right number is on the checks and they keep coming. “If I had an income for my family, it would be well worth it,” he said. “We could help the economy out if we had that money. It could save our economy.”

For many rural landowners, the offers are difficult to pass up. Reports of leases offered at $2,500 per acre are common as close as Wyoming County, and companies have increased production royalties from the state-mandated 12.5 percent to 18 percent as owners become more educated.

Even with just his 16 acres in a standard 600-acre drilling unit, and estimating modest gas extraction at 18 percent royalties on a single well, Riaubia stands to pocket around $117,000 over the well’s lifetime, according to, a Web site run by landowners who were approached early on about leasing.

That’s only the profits from a single well, and far more than one can exist at a site. “We heard of one company had drilled 27 on one pad,” said Tom Murphy, a Penn State Cooperative Extension educator.

And as oil prices increase, so will natural gas prices, according to a 2005 report by the Schlumberger oil and gas company. “The price of gas is linked to oil and based on each fuel’s heating value,” the report notes. “As long as oil prices remain high, there is no reason for natural gas prices to go down. Although gas is abundant in much of the world, it is expensive and potentially dangerous to transport internationally.”

That financial windfall might be just a pipedream for Luzerne County residents, though.

Chesapeake Energy Corp., one of the largest leaseholders in the Marcellus play, isn’t leasing in the county, according to Matt Sheppard, the company’s director of corporate development. A single listing exists for Luzerne County on the gas lease Web site’s lease tracker. Signed in late May, the five-year offer was $1,500 per acre with 15 percent royalties.

While Riaubia said he hasn’t been approached by any companies, land groups in northern municipalities in the county, such as Franklin Township, have been negotiating. Rod McGuirk, who owns 56 acres in the township, said owners there have been offered $1,800 per acre. “They’re just preliminary offers, but we’re excited,” he said.

That excitement could quickly wane if problems crop up or owners are unprepared for the realities of drilling. Unlike other unconventional gas sources, shale wells produce consistently over three decades, so well sites are more or less permanent. Even after sites are reclaimed, some infrastructure is left behind.

Also, because gas is transported nationally through lines that are more compressed than regional distribution lines, noisy compression stations will need to be installed in what are otherwise bucolically quiet locales.

Then there’s the potential to unearth radioactive materials, acid-producing minerals and deplete water resources. In fact, after concerns arose about the amount of water necessary to drill a well, the state Department of Environmental Protection included an addendum to its drilling permit that addresses water usage and is specific to Marcellus shale.

Still, officials assure that regulatory agencies are keeping tabs on drillers. “There’s an awful lot of eyes watching the streams up there,” DEP spokesman Tom Rathbun said. “So these guys aren’t just going to be able to dump stuff. … If they start killing streams, a lot of people are going to find out quickly.”

And aside from that, he said, the financials force the industry to regulate itself. “The Marcellus shale is not really a business for fly-by-nighters,” he said. “You don’t throw $10 million away because you were cutting corners on an environmental regulation. Now that they know we’re watching … there’s too much money on the line for these guys to do stupid mistakes or to cut corners.”

Rory Sweeney, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7418.

Copyright: Times Leader

Gas lease offers could jump if early wells productive

Experts tell landowners to understand everything they are signing related to leases.

LEHMAN TWP. – Natural-gas drillers seem to be taking “a wait-and-see attitude” right now, according to Ken Balliet, a Penn State Extension director well versed in gas-lease issues.

If exploratory wells being drilled this summer are productive and some state regulatory issues are ironed out, gas-lease offers could jump, he said.

But as anticipation builds over natural-gas drilling in the region, here’s one thing landowners can expect.

“As soon as you sign a lease, in a few days or weeks, the price (others sign leases for) is going to go up,” Balliet said. “You’ve gotta understand this is still a highly speculative play.”

That said, landowners have many other issues to consider beyond the bottom line, according to other experts who spoke at a gas-lease workshop on Monday evening at Lake-Lehman High School. There are environmental, liability, property rights and payment issues that should be considered.

For Luzerne County landowners who are undergoing property reassessment, another concern is retaining the land’s “clean and green” tax abatement status. Dale Tice noted that the financial risk could be transferred to the drilling company. Tice, an oil and gas attorney, said an addendum could be added to leases to require drillers to pay any rollback taxes.

Another important lease consideration for farmers is making sure the drillers isolate the topsoil during excavation, pointed out Joe Umholtz, an oil and gas program manager with the state Department of Environmental Protection. DEP doesn’t have a regulation requiring that, he said.

Tice also mentioned inserting compensation clauses for crop loss and land damage.

Beyond soil and groundwater pollution or water usage, landowners should consider the sound pollution from compressor stations and other machinery.

While all the issues probably won’t deter wildlife indefinitely, drillers can arrive at any time of year, so owners should prepare accordingly for hunting seasons, the experts said.

Regarding payments, owners should be aware that companies currently deduct transportation costs for getting the gas to market, Tice said, but legislation is pending to ban that. Also, while companies might offer owners the opportunity to use as much gas as they want, the pressures involved make it practically unreasonable, so Tice suggested that owners negotiate for payments in lieu of the gas.

It’s also important, he said, to restrict lease rights to only what might come up from the well because a broader lease might allow extraction of other minerals.

Finally, he advised against allowing options to re-lease land, but instead offer the first right to refuse a new lease offer.

“If they drill a well, that means you’ve got one chance to get this lease correct. You need to be sure you understand everything you’re signing,” he said.

Copyright: Times Leader

Should You Sign A Gas Lease? Part 2

Part 2 is a discussion of the factors landowners need to consider before signing a gas lease on their property. Featuring Ken Balliet and Dave Messersmith, both Extension Educators with Penn State Extension.
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