Like Land And Water; Oil And Gas Are The Peoples’ Resources
By: Robert A. Young
The “Marcellus Shale Play” is as much about people as it is about the precious product and corporate profits.
Like many Bradford County, Pennsylvania residents, my family roots also run deep into the history of the “endless mountains.“ However, uniquely; most of my early life was spent in the urban centers of Philadelphia and Northern New Jersey, where I was educated, made my living and supported my family.
I come from blue collar stock. My grandparents once owned a farm off Mosier Road in Standing Stone Township from the early 1940’s into the late 1960’s.
My grandfather, (a World War I veteran of the army and navy), passed away on the old “Young Farm”, and my grandmother moved to a quaint house on the river in Athens, Pa. and lived there until her death by natural causes in 1968.
Many of the summers of my youth were spent exploring the Susquehanna and traversing the rolling hills of our fine county.
Although I was a city boy at heart; over time, I became attached to the land here. Dad; (who was a World War II veteran), and I hunted the backwoods of Bradford County for nearly a half century, and we truly got to know the land very well.
The fond memories of my boyhood experiences rambling around the bucolic wilderness, hillocks, steep ravines and valleys of Northeastern Pennsylvania, eventually prompted me to move here permanently and make this region my home. Presently, I own two rural properties in the area that are leased to a major energy company.
When I ponder the many issues of oil and gas exploration and production that are facing us here today, I frequently revert to the following fitting analogy. Like land and water; oil and gas should be considered the peoples' resources, and here’s some of the reasons why.
During the fifty years that I have experienced life in Bradford County, I have come across many interesting folks and some of these contacts have led me to the following conclusion.
The residents of this county are generally “landed folks;” (i.e. proudly rugged individuals, living close to the earth, and they really know their land inside and out, in the colloquial sense.) As such, they rightfully care about their surroundings, and they have a huge stake in protecting it from any chance of impending industrial exploitation. By the same token, many people here also need the economic shot in the arm that energy bonuses and royalties quite readily afford the recipients of such rewards.
In scientific circles, this theory of mine regarding the innate senses of our people here, probably won’t hold up to any serious evidentiary testing, but despite the glaring empirical fault; (none the less), I’ll offer some interesting anecdotal propositions in this vein, just for your consideration.
Decades before energy companies like Chesapeake, Talisman and EOG showed up,(with bells on), in our part of Appalachia, old-timers told me confidentially, that they thought the Northeastern Pennsylvania landscape held untold riches; ranging from gold to oil and natural gas. I must admit, at first, I considered these rants as simply up-country gibberish, but with the passing of time my opinions drastically changed much to the contrary.
Many years ago, one local gentleman from Herrickville, who called himself a “diviner”, (a guy who located water sources with the assistance of fresh willow twigs, and always seemed to somehow find it), told me with a smile; “There’s value in these hills…” Of course, in the haste and fluster of that day and time, I discounted the elder and continued on with my life, never dreaming it may have been a harbinger of promising things to come.
I never thought his outwardly visceral reflections might portend the very real possibilities and prospects of the ultimate realization of acquiring wealth in the future that supposedly looms apparent for some of us in this area today.
Another aged farmer stopped me during the haying of my pasture one day many years ago when I was preoccupied with the subtle intricacies of this dreaded yearly task. An activity that was rote child’s play to him; because, he had done it over and over again hundreds of prior summers, and he knew all the tricks. With a bleary eyed glare and peering towards the sunny horizon, he said; “Son, there’s a stone quarry below that ridge just beyond the evergreens...” All I saw at that time, was a row of trees and an obtrusive rocky outcropping, and I didn’t take heed and notice to his accurate feel for the land which he had garnered by virtue of experiencing a lifetime as a worker of the soil, living so very close to the ground that he loved.
A venerable stone stacker once confided in me and shared a story retrieved from the cobwebbed memories of his childhood in the 1920’s. The man made a career out of palletizing field stone for market; one stone at a time. His worn hands showed his hard life handling rock that he pulled from farm plots for decades on end. He said that an artesian well, which is now a spring fed farm pond, once bubbled up with, what he described as; multi-colored circular oil slicks that rose to the surface of the water as he fished for bass back in the days long before the well pads and frac-trucks scattered the area.
I never put 2 and 2 together to complete the thought, until I had a catharsis when a big- bellied Texan wearing a ten gallon hat stepped his expensive shiny cowboy boots onto my front porch and covered his silver belt buckle with a boiler plate lease pressed between his thick thumb and forefinger.
For years I was of the belief that the indigenous, longtime Bradford County residents really didn’t know the value of their land since,( until recently), properties here sold relatively cheap throughout the years in comparison to other areas of the state.
Finally, a flag went up in my consciousness in the summer of 2008, when a litany of unsolicited lease offers touting rising bonus considerations rolled into my piece of rural paradise at breakneck speed amid the backdrop of the steepest downturn of the American economy since the Great Depression.
I remembered the words of Francis, Dick and Charlie, ( my old friends from the past), who were long gone by now, and I was consequently very cautious in my dealings with the energy companies, as we all should continue to be. It was now quite obvious that we have value here, and for better or worse, Bradford County will be a very different place for the likes of what is contained way below our feet.
“Penn’s Woods” has always been heralded as a commonwealth state; “of and for the people.” Basically, Pennsylvania is: Philadelphia to the east, Pittsburgh to the west and 67 separate counties in between which have operated on their own, undisturbed and virtually unaccountable for decades. The recently reported “Penn State scandal” tacitly speaks volumes on that subject.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the commonwealth is “…a self-governing, autonomous political unit…”, and the “Keystone State” boasts some 1,500 independent township governments. Social theorists have indicated that this system has evolved into a very cumbersome and unproductive political arrangement, trailing far behind the rapid change of 21st century life and modern public affairs.
The history of Bradford County is a legacy of towns, villages, family farms and forestry. Until the present oil and gas boom surfaced, admittedly, our area was all too often considered ; “a backwater.”
Some aggressive outsiders even feel that this area is an insular and highly provincial place in dire need of a public relations upgrade which embraces inclusiveness and an adherence to the precepts of “American Excellence” instead of following the traditional; ” good old boy,” business as usual syndrome.
The agriculture and lumbering that was historically the forte of this area was comparatively small scale, and there never was much industrial production here either. The absence of industry laid the foundation for a unique socio-economic evolution locally. Some people were successful, while the greater majority led very Spartan lives.
There always was, and still is a wide disparity between rich and poor here. These are economic and social conditions that finally demand change in the status quo. Historically, wages and benefits were kept low resulting in weak consumer buying power, cheap land, minimal housing values and a lower standard of life. The rural blight of the “rust belt” is ever present around us, and it is painfully evident that the concentration and distribution of wealth, prestige, power and influence is far from equal in these hills that many of us call; home.
But things are definitely changing. The advances of modern state of the art technology and influx of investment capital has enabled the production of oil and gas, and as a result, energy corporations have focused some of their operations here. Their advertising campaigns tout the promise of unprecedented prosperity for our people. But, it really isn't a perfect panacea. Accompanying this progress are a host of other problems that may remain with us into the future.
The corporate infiltration locally, happened very quietly at first, without much fanfare, possibly for reasons that might not always meld with the collective will of the people.
Until recently, there has not been much media coverage. In comparison to other public matters, it seems, that some political leaders are not saying much either. Conversely, thanks to GoMarcellusShale.Com, the word is getting out educating and assisting individuals and groups in their dealings with the energy industry, which have already targeted our area for their long term exploration and production operations.
It has been confirmed and is relatively old news by now that energy corporations do not treat everyone equally. Bonuses and royalties were held to a minimum here; much lower than the publicized windfalls of other areas of the country such as, for example, the “Barnett Shale Play” of eastern Texas. This fact should send a clear message of precaution as to what local issues may appear in the future. Therefore, the people need the best and brightest to represent them in the political arena, more so now than ever before.
Energy companies have an interesting past too. They have developed oil and gas resources in the “Third World”, all over the globe for years, and due to the nature of their business, they know how to protect corporate interests and bottom line; profits, sometimes ultimately at the expense of the locals. For this reason alone; regulation, enforcement and accountability is direly needed in the wide open fields and woods of Pennsylvania.
It is easily proposed that there are many similarities between developing countries of the “Third World” and Bradford County, Pennsylvania. Our neck of the woods is a relatively isolated, mountainous region; a terrain that few at the national level ever cared about for decades, until now, when it is profitable and politically expedient to do so.
It has also been argued that our residents are not unified here. The body politic is comprised of a curious mixture of mostly blue collar workers, retirees, seasonal vacationers and new arrivals seemingly starving for competent leadership and direction in this rapidly changing political, economic, social and cultural milieu that has descended upon us relatively quickly catching some initially unaware and unprepared. Complicating matters further; is the patchwork of local municipalities and townships that do not always operate in unison.
However, this traditional political structure has always served as the hallmark of our commonwealth system in the Keystone State for time and memorial. Sometimes, it is hard to change, unless it is absolutely necessary.
At the grassroots township level, one criticism today, is that there is not much productivity, interface, dialogue, problem solving, continuity, seamlessness or accountability in the services rendered on this basal plane of politics. As a result the system is drastically in need of reform.
One pundit has reported that the township democratic arrangement has all but run the course, falling so short of meeting the dynamic needs of its constituency in these modern times.
It is precisely this type of environment that energy companies tend to thrive. Places where there are, under-informed, potentially disenfranchised folks who may feel far removed from the vital decisions that seriously impact their lives.
There are a host of other concerns that affect our community and demand the utmost attention of our elected representatives.
We should get our priorities straight, now in Pennsylvania and seek competent, sensible, educated, trained and accountable leadership who are sensitive to the needs of the community, and will work for the greater good rather than for special or self-interests.
The people should organize, employ objective legal advocacy, and finally become a vital part of the decision making process through their activism armed with expressed goals leading to the equitable and safe closure of all pertinent issues involved in the “Marcellus Shale Play.”
One final suggestion would be to consolidate local governments. Build up and strengthen county operations and representation under home rule and diplomatically maintain positive working relationships with the local, state and national regulatory agencies. Concerned citizen groups should be meeting regularly with energy companies and authorities to address issues and agendas.
We are no longer isolated here, and our region is gaining international attention as a direct result of the many changes caused by the oil and gas activity.
Like land and water; oil and natural gas should be regarded as; the peoples’ resources.
Indigenous residents with familial roots extending way back into the distant past in Bradford County Pennsylvania, new-comers, and visitors alike should find common ground by reaching goals of effective compromise to ensure the success of the energy companies. Because, that success will ultimately be our success too. Simultaneously, we; the people also bear the responsibility of protecting our beloved local environment and cherished ways of life.
Any initiatives worth doing will take collective work together; starting right now.
About The Author: Robert A. Young lives on his land in Rome and Standing Stone Townships, Bradford County, Pennsylvania which is presently a hot spot in the “Marcellus Shale Play” in the northeast section of the Keystone State.