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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

OUR OPINION – Before making the deal, scrutinize gas lease offer

MOST CONSUMERS HAVE heard the cautionary phrase, “caveat emptor,” or “let the buyer beware.”

Turns out, for Pennsylvania landowners who are mulling natural gas lease offers, the seller better be careful too.

Deals are being sealed throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania as a result of a natural gas rush. The flurry began months ago, in part, because a Penn State University researcher and colleague in New York suggested that there might be a treasure trove of natural gas trapped within a rock formation known as the Marcellus shale.

This formation – which extends over parts of Pennsylvania and three bordering states – might contain more than 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, much of it previously inaccessible. Using updated drilling technology, however, industry watchers speculate that at least 10 percent of it could be recovered. Taking into account projected fuel prices, that makes the Marcellus worth about $1 trillion.

Consequently, drilling company representatives and other dealmakers have fanned out across Northeastern Pennsylvania, knocking on doors and making what might, at first, seem to be lucrative offers. But property owners would be wise to wait and get the facts, not quickly jump at an apparent windfall.

Experts advise that landowners don’t sign companies’ standard agreements, which tend to favor the drilling operators. Instead, negotiate.

People who had been offered $15 per acre two years ago have, in some cases, reaped new offers of as much as $2,500 per acre, according to one report.

Other equally important issues should be examined in the lease agreements.

Among the questions to consider: What percentage of royalties will be paid to the landowner? How might potential environmental impacts be addressed? Does the contract provide provisions releasing the landowner from liabilities, including failure of the drilling company to follow applicable laws?

In short, draft the best possible deal before signing on the dotted line. This unforeseen opportunity shouldn’t leave you feeling cheated.


For information on natural gas leases, television viewers can tune into an hour-long, call-in program at 7 tonight on the Pennsylvania Cable Network. The program also will be available on the Web at

A workshop on understanding gas leases is set for 7 to 9:30 p.m. June 23 at Lake-Lehman High School. Fee: $15. To register, call the Penn State Cooperative Extension office in Luzerne County at 825-1701.

Separately, gas-leasing information is available at Web sites such as and

Copyright: Times Leader

Citizens prep for area gas lease rush

By Rory
Staff Writer

With lucrative natural-gas lease offers coming to Luzerne County, landowners are beginning to pool their land, resources and knowledge to score the best deals possible.

Gas companies are rushing to secure the rights to a layer of rock called Marcellus Shale. The shale is deep underground, perhaps as far as 8,000 feet, and stretches from upstate New York to Virginia. Though solid, the rock holds natural gas under intense pressure. The resource has been known for decades, but technology only recently improved enough to extract it economically.

One issue landowners might not be able to control is determining who owns the rock and gas.

“That’s a tough question. Eventually what’s going to happen is when push comes to shove … they’re going to do title searches” back about 150 years, said John Zucosky, who is part of a Franklin Township landowners’ group. His research, he said, produced evidence that gas and oil might not be included in the mineral rights. He said he hasn’t heard anything about anyone claiming to own the rights.

Many Franklin Township residents have attended meetings at which Matthew Golden, a West Pittston lawyer who’s worked in the gas industry, has outlined the leasing, drilling and clean-up processes. He pointed out companies will attempt to exploit landowners’ ignorance to get them to sign unfavorable leases.

“There’s a great disparity in knowledge between the companies’ land men and the landowners. This could open them (landowners) up to some risk,” Golden said.

Zucosky’s group, which is accepting new members, owns 1,500 contiguous acres in Franklin Township.

Zucosky said he got involved nearly a year ago when a Texas company offered to buy the mineral rights on his 100 acres for $300 per acre. Initially, he suspected it was akin to an e-mail scam, but some Internet researching convinced him the offer was genuine and that he could probably get a better one.

“I saw that contract. You have to be pretty naive to sign something like that,” he said. If the situation is as experts suggest, Zucosky said, “there’s a whole bunch of money involved.”

He’s already witnessing the rush. An offer of $2,000 per acre increased by $500 within a few days without any prodding from owners, he said.

The group is ironing out which issues it wants addressed in contracts. Then it will consider offers, and once an offer is accepted, will hire a lawyer to finalize the contract, Zucosky said.

“We’re trying to put a package together to address all the things we want … to try to get the most we could,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, I think, so what the heck.”


For more information on gas leasing or to join a leasing group, go to

“I saw that contract. You have to be pretty naive to sign something like that.”

Landowner John Zucosky

On offer for his mineral rights
Rory Sweeney, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7418.

Copyright: Times Leader