BEAVER COUNTY, Pa. -- Seven families are fighting to stop a natural gas company's last-minute drilling plans on their land before the company's lease expires next month.
The McRoberts family woke up Tuesday morning to find tree-cutters lined up along their property in Darlington, Beaver County, getting ready to clear a quarter-mile path to a proposed gas well site.
"Four generations of McRoberts have farmed this land, and we pay the taxes and they're going to tell us what they're going to do? And they lied from the beginning," said property owner Susan McRoberts.
When Channel 4 Action News' Jim Parsons went to the McRoberts' property, the tree-cutters left without cutting any branches.
"Chesapeake (Energy) doesn't even have a permit to drill this well, and yet they want to come in here and cut these folks' trees down without any compensation," said McRoberts family attorney Steve Townsend.
Townsend filed a lawsuit Tuesday against O & G Investment of Ohio, which signed gas leases with the McRoberts and six other families in 2005.
O & G sold those leases last year to Chesapeake Energy, which is also named in the suit.
The suit accuses O & G of "intentionally and fraudulently misrepresenting to the plaintiffs that (it) would reasonably develop the mineral resources underlying their land."
"They promised these people the world and didn't pay a dime, and took their land and held it hostage for years," said Townsend.
With the leases set to expire next month, the McRoberts are trying to stop Chesapeake from conducting a last-minute drilling operation.
"It's too late, too late. Listen Jim, I couldn't rent a car for $200 a month and not pay for it. They've had thousands of acres of land here that they've not paid one cent for and they've held it seven to 10 years and haven't paid anybody any money," said Townsend.
Chesapeake Energy has not commented.
I love how everyone is now a oil and gas expert. Where was everyone 5 years ago to tell us about all the pitfalls to look out for? Oh wait, nowhere. Thhe only way people even know what to demand and look for now is because of the people who were ripped off in the past. Same thing happened in my area. Bonus money went from $10 to $1500 in two months. Hell, most farmers in Lawrence county never thought shale was anyhhting more than a barn roof.
You think if Long Consulting would hhave presented the farmer with the WHOLE truth he would've signed the lease????????? Because here's how that conversation would hav went:
Long Consulting(LC): Hello, sir I just wanted to let you know we are interested in signing your property because of a highly speculative new energy find called Mrcellus shale?
Farmer: What is Marcellus Shale?
LC: It is an energy rich formation deep down that yields exponentially much more gas than the conventional wells you are used to.
Farmer: Wow, that sounds great, ten dollars an acre doesn't sound like much for a find like that. What are they getting in areas where they actually are drilling for it?
Farmer: Get the hell off my property.
Slate, it is a metamorphosed shale. That is what they use on roofs.
5years ago when our lease was signed it looked like free money. No one was drilling and nobody was offering more then a few dollars an acre. The whole idea of a lawyer being involved meant either all the lease money went to him for his services or the landman said see ya later. The money helped pay the taxes.
The lease company took a (educated?)risk and won.
Remember the parable of the landowner who went to the marketplace in the morning to gather workers to harvest his grapes and offered to paid them $100 for a full day's labor. He went back at noon an saw other laborers and offered them $100 for a half day's labor. Then he went back at 3:00 and made the same offer. By that time the ones who had worked all day got mad and believed they were entitled to more.
The contract between them hadn't changed but the perception of fairness had.
It is very irksome to know your neighbor just got a bonus large enough to buy a Lamborghini and you got enough to take the family to the Dairy Queen.
Being part of the Dairy Queen group this whole ordeal tastes of sour grapes. In the meantime I keep informed through this web site and keep rereading the lease.
The landowners took a (uneducated?) risk and lost - big time, by not consulting a good oil and gas attorney before signing something they didn't understand.
If CHK is able to drill as they intend, the landowner may end up winning something after all in the way of royalties.
At the very least, he/she would have advised the landowners that they would be tied up for 7-10 years under this contract. He could have taken an hour or two and educated them on the ramifications of signing the lease. A couple hours attorney fees would have been money well spent. If all they are mad about is that their neighbors got more $, then they just need to quit whining. They agreed to the deal back then and now need to live with what they agreed to.
That's the way markets work. If I buy your land for $100 per acre and later find gold on it, that's your problem. There is always some risk in buying and selling. Sometimes lessors or buyers pay too much and sometimes too little. sometimes sellers sell to cheaply. Hindsight is always 20-20. If the gas market collapses further, lease offers may dry up.Buy a stock today that looks good; ten years from now you may be rich or the stock may tank. Admittedly the recently discovered deep shale gas and new technology means that people who signed long-term leases a number of years ago are upset. But legally they have no complaint> They presumptively could read and write and presumably had the right to hire an attorney if they didn't understand.
There should have been a group they could have joined back then, for protection. Then maybe the responsible and altruistic group could have made a huge deal with a big driller for a giant block of land, and the big driller with the biggest check would be someone like Chesapeake who would pay a very high price for....oops.
I agree, you can't blame the folks for trying. After several years of little $ and no action they were probably counting the days before they would get the opportunity to negotiate a new lease. Mst likely did their homework during the past few years and would have made sure to get a good lease this time around. Too bad the judge didn't buy the "they were tricked by land men into signing it without fully reviewing it" defense.
Maybe we need a "lemon law" for gas leases.
I like it. It's a simple, easy and understandable fix. Won't help the old leases out there but perhaps offer protection for new landowners.
CHK has already won this suit... the mere fact that the landowner denied them entry onto a piece of property that they validly have under lease will toll the lease expiration due to force majeure nature of the lessor's actions. Obviously none of us have laid eyes on the lease in question but I'd bet my next two paychecks that it doesn't require the lessee to have a drilling permit in hand in order to access the property and begin pad construction. These landowners are in way over their head with CHK...CHK will make them rue the day they tangled with CHK.
learned this from a guy in the gas industry...remember, this is all about money..chk tries do get the most from us and we try to get the most from them..it is capitalism!!! chk has been thru this many times...the landowners have the try to do what they feel is right...the courts will decide..it is how our country works...chk will not hold a grudge..they have been thru this 1000 times..the landowner may or may not have a case...if they lose or chk loses...its all business...dont like it move to a country where the gov owns your gas and get nothing!!!!