Landowners unite to deal with drilling companies

March 29, 2012 9:49 pm

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

By Sean D. Hamill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The temperature was in single digits, even colder with the 50-mph wind gusts that created near-whiteout conditions at times with falling and fallen snow in Loretto by 7 p.m. Wednesday.

In short, it was a good night to stay home.

Even so, about 500 people from the surrounding area of Cambria County braved the local roads to come to a community meeting at Our Lady of Loretto Community Hall. Why go through all of this? What could be so important?

“Well, some of them might become rich from the Marcellus Shale,” said Raymond Seymour, a high school history teacher who made his way to the meeting.

Those who came out were all members, or prospective members, of the Loretto Landowners Group, which collectively represents about 35,000 acres in Cambria County.

The group, like many others that have sprung up in the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom of the last four years in Pennsylvania and New York, is organized to negotiate collectively with gas companies for the right to drill for the natural gas underneath their property.

These groups, whether they’re in Tioga County, N.Y., or Tioga County, Pa., have one basic principle.

“We have to stick together. It’s the strength-in-numbers strategy,” the Loretto group’s lead organizer, Lee Wyland, told his members at the beginning of the two-hour-long meeting. “If we don’t, they will pick us apart one-by-one — there’s no doubt about it.”

“They” are the landmen working on behalf of the now dozens of gas companies trying to snap up mineral rights in the region. Many of the landmen work for companies that merely lease the land and then sell the leases back to gas companies. They’re seeking to secure deals on more industry-friendly terms, with less in upfront fees and royalties than the landowners groups would like.

And that, the groups say, is exactly the point.
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