A fracking horror story: Do you know who owns what’s underneath your land?

Feb 8, 2013 by

 Grist

 

By Philip Bump
For your weekend reading, a horror story from North Carolina, via Reuters:

Three years ago, Vince and Jeanne Rhea found the house of their dreams in Shirley, Arkansas. They couldn’t believe the deal: 40 acres complete with a separate workshop that Jeanne could use as an art studio and two nearby lakes. It was also thousands of dollars cheaper than a property of that quality should have been. They booked a plane ticket from Raleigh, North Carolina that day to fly down and buy it.

When they got to Arkansas, they found out why it was so cheap.

The owner of the house had recently sold the mineral rights under the property to a natural gas company for use in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a drilling technique that is opening new areas across the country for energy exploration. The front page of the local newspaper that day had a story about problems in the water supply and was advising residents not to bathe, Jeanne recalled. “There was no way we were making an offer after that,” she said.

Close call. Except that the Rheas then bought property in Lee County, a rural area of North Carolina — and found that it too was over a shale formation.

[B]ecause of two arcane laws known as split estates and forced pooling, they may not even have the right to say whether gas companies can drill on their property. …

“Whether we want to sell or not, the gas companies could take our property from us,” said Vince Rhea.

The courthouse in Lee County, North Carolina
oldrebel
The courthouse in Lee County, N.C.

The article takes a deep-dive look at the legal rights surrounding property ownership, particularly the difference between owning property and owning the right to extract what’s underneath it. Tension between the two isn’t new, but it’s escalated as drilling companies explore previously untouched shale formations.

Turn down the lights, light a few candles, and prepare to be chilled to the bone. The story is twice as scary as Nightmare on Elm Street, and with far, far more sequels.

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