Wednesday, March 7, 2012

North Branch Land Trust (PA): Will It Be Fracked?

This is a video shot by Scott Cannon for the Bowman's Creek Watershed Association.  The video has a section on the North Branch Land Trust, the focus of this post.

Friends, this is very sad news.  The North Branch Land Trust has opened the door to natural gas drilling beneath its Wyoming County, PA, property which it had pledged to conserve.  The aim of the NBLT now seems to have changed to consider allowing subsurface drilling while prohibiting any surface drilling activity.  Douglas Ayers, one of the trust's founders, believes that leasing pristine land for subsurface drilling is unethical and fears it may lead to potential destruction of the environment and could pollute not only the water at the Howland Preserve, but the land around it.

In 2010, the Chesapeake Energy Corp. offered the trust $4000 an acre plus 20% royalties to lease The Howland Preserve, part of the NBLT.  (Ernest Howland died in 2003, willing his 667-acre property on the Vosberg Neck to the NBLT.) The board turned down the offer in June of 2010.  The very next month the board changed its policy to read: "Due to the current status of state and federal laws and regulations governing the industry and the current conditions in the industry in general, NBLT will not consider any form of lease agreement for the extraction of fossil fuels, minerals, or any other subsuface resource under any NBLT owned properties at this time."  A few weeks ago, the trust's board changed the policy to exclude that clause.  Mr. Ayers said,
I think it's extremely immoral for anyone, a private citizen, even someone who's going to lose their property, to allow gas drilling if there is a chance they will damage their neighbor's property. I would rather lose my property than hurt other people.
He also said it's naive
to think you can punch a hole a mile underground, pour in one of the most toxic substances known to mankind, and not think it's going to come back up.
Ayers said the gas companies are using the idea of drilling in the Vosberg Neck as leverage to get the land trust to sign a lease. The Susquehanna River flows through this area.

The North Branch Land Trust now has agreements to protect 10,831 acres in Bradford, Columbia, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wayne, and Wyoming Counties. The question is: Will the trust really protect the land or not? When people give their precious land to the trust, isn't is reasonable for them to assume that the trust will be true to their mission and protect it forever, period?

There has been a lot of conflict on the board the past few years.  The issues continue.  For example, the trust just turned down $75,000 from UGI to run a pipeline throught the trust's land.  The trust said no. This will be an on-going process as the gas industry inhabits more and more land in PA.  This is an industrial revolution.  The trust's executive director, Paul Lumia, put it this way:
It's a crapshoot. It really is.

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