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Home / Articles / Editorial / Wearing Thin /  My New Year’s wishes are not all about fracking
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Wednesday, January 4,2012

My New Year’s wishes are not all about fracking

But most of them are

By Terry Smith

My belated New Year's wishes…

Where's my Columbus TV?

Here's hoping that Time Warner gives us back our missing Columbus TV stations (Fox and CBS). I don't mind the West Virginia stations, mind you, since their news is usually more interesting and culturally relatable to southeast Ohioans. I'd much rather hear about a rural meth lab exploding than a drive-by shooting happening in inner-city Columbus, and the West Virginia newscasters are much less obnoxiously glitzy and happy-talky than the movie-star anchors up in C-town.

On the other hand, Columbus TV is much more likely to play Cleveland Browns games, and I do hold out hopes that someday far in the distant future, that there might actually be a good reason to watch the Browns play football, rather than whatever sport they've been wasting their time on for the past 15 years.

Curiosity is killing me…

Cunningham Energy should reveal who its "venture partner" is, and a related issue, whether Chesapeake Energy Corp. is lurking in the background. (As it happens, the mega-goliath Chesapeake issued a news release Tuesday in which it hyped a $2.32 billion – yes, 2.32 BILLION-DOLLAR – joint venture transaction with Total E&P USA, Inc. whereby Total (accent on the second syllable), the subsidiary of a French corporation, acquires 25 percent interest in "approximately 619,000 net acres in the liquids-rich area of the Utica shale (in east Ohio)."

The interesting part of the news is that the southeastern tip of Athens County is included in the map that Chesapeake Energy released to denote the "wet gas window" in Ohio. The term "wet gas" generally describes gas with less than 85 percent methane content, and more ethane, butane, propane and other "-anes." It condenses into a liquid when brought to the surface, and is priced more closely to oil than "dry" natural gas. Oil currently is priced higher than natural gas, whose price has been declining due to over-supply.

On the release with the map, Chesapeake's headline shouts out, "CHK's Newest Major Discovery – Liquids-Rich Ohio Utica Shale."

Up to now, Chesapeake, a main player in development of the Marcellus shale beds of Pennsylvania and now developing the Utica shale of eastern Ohio, hasn't been mentioned as having a role in Athens County's shale play. However, without any evidence to the contrary, Chesapeake has been mentioned as one possible candidate for the unidentified venture partner behind Cunningham Energy, the main purchaser of oil and gas leases in Athens County.

The Chesapeake spokesman who sent the news release about his company hooking up with Total S.A. wouldn't confirm whether southeast Athens County is part of the wet-gas play touted in the release, and said he honestly doesn't know whether his employer and Cunningham are working together in any capacity. He'd only say that the map showing the "wet gas window" includes the 10 east Ohio counties involved in the companies' liquid-gas play. The map, however, shows 13 or 14 counties in that shaded area.

My head hurts…

Let's hope my brain doesn't explode from all the technical petro-gas information that's being crammed into it since the local fracking story grew legs and started training for a marathon. Yet, with all I've learned about fracking since the story broke early in 2011, I still don't know that much about the technology, its environmental impacts (whether they're isolated or widespread), and most of all, the business of oil and gas development. The business story is incredibly complex, though it could have significant impacts on what happens with any oil or gas development in Athens County.

As shown elsewhere, just because you work out an oil and gas lease with one company doesn't mean that your lease will stay with them, or that some much bigger player (such as Chesapeake) isn't waiting in the background.

Let them eat cake…

We recently printed a link to the Athens County Recorder's site where the leasing landowners are listed, and the names represent a hodge-podge of area property owners. Scanning the list, I was struck by how many old-line Athens County family names are represented as lease-signers.

One of the most obnoxious things I've seen so far in the local fracking debate is people who have enough personal wealth where they can easily say no to leasing their mineral rights, turning around and condemning less-prosperous landowners who don't feel they can refuse the prospect of financial security.

If I owned 300 acres in Athens County and was being crushed by medical bills and/or other types of debt, I'd think seriously about leasing my mineral rights. I might do it even without the crushing debt, if I had a family whom I wanted to do a better job providing for.

He's a bad, bad man…

You guessed it; I'm referring to Washington Post columnist George Will, who I hope someday gets comeuppance for his profoundly negative journalistic influence. Between his chronic climate-change denial (a life and death situation that he ridicules) and his hooraying of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (stating that when it comes to speech, corporations have the same rights as individuals), Will is the most reckless and dangerous pundit in the country. Other right-wing columnists say more outrageous things, but they don't have the reach, or the veneer of intellectualism, that Will uses to distribute and camouflage his verbal ebola.

Now he's jumping on the pro-fracking bandwagon, arguing that progressives' motivation for opposing the oil and gas resurgence in America is similar to their motivation in fighting climate change. It's not that progressives are concerned about any real or imagined environmental impacts of these things, he argues, but rather that phony hyped-up environmental threats such as climate change and hydro-fracking allow them to drum up support for their own point of view:

In his column last week, Will wrote, "In 2011, for the first time in 62 years, America was a net exporter of petroleum products. For the indefinite future, a specter is haunting progressivism, the specter of abundance. Because progressivism exists to justify a few people bossing around most people and because progressives believe that only government's energy should flow unimpeded, they crave energy scarcities as an excuse for rationing – by them…"

George Will lives in a world that's all abstraction. This frees him of ever having to consider the real-world consequences of his positions – such consequences as 1) the well-reported ongoing and progressively worsening worldwide consequences of climate change, 2) the corrosive effects of billions of unregulated corporate dollars turning our nation into a caricature of democracy, 3) and the fact of fracking damaging water supplies, causing small earthquakes, and otherwise disrupting people's lives all over the country (and world).

I've said some positive things about the oil and gas boom, though I really try to frame it as a tradeoff between costs and benefits, and one that absolutely requires sufficient regulation to minimize harm to people. George Will, however, can simplify his arguments by dismissing any negative consequences altogether, and ridiculing anyone who'd have the audacity to state, much less believe, that corporate actions can hurt people, whether at the ballot box, receding Third World coast-lines, or water-depleted east Ohio farms.

I'd like a time machine…

So I could go back 150 years and buy up as much Athens County land as possible at a few dollars an acre. Then I would come back to 2012 and either 1) cash in my oil and gas rights for $2,500 an acre and 16 percent royalties, and become a millionaire many times over; or 2) refuse to lease my oil and gas rights and then, as a result, accept monetary tokens of regard from all the fracking opponents in Athens County, thus making me a millionaire many times over.

In either case, I would use the money to bring all the children of the world together to sing in perfect harmony and peace. (Apologies to Steve Martin.)

But seriously, my heart goes out to local residents and their families who are having to make the wrenching decision either to lease their oil and gas rights or to refuse doing so, at a time when everybody seems to be second-guessing those decisions. Plus, the fact that none of this money is guaranteed, that it's quite possible, even likely, that the prospects of new wealth will evaporate with the first dry well or misidentified mineral rights, means many people are balanced on pins and needles till mid-March when they either get paid off or pissed off.

Thank goodness I don't have any prospects of great wealth!


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Terry, your comment about wealthy folks in Athens being the ones to say no to drilling gives me gas.


I live below the poverty line and have for 30 years. I choose to heat my house and cook my food with wood, so that I don't depend on the energy companies for most of my energy.  I also have a number of neighbors who are not rich, and also live on the edge, but are choosing not to sign. There are alternatives and we need to put our resources behind them. We would not be in this mess if the powers that be would support the working class, education and renewables in the fashion that they are supporting billionaires.



I know how you can get rid of that gas, Bearhart. Go back and read what I actually said -- that I'm especially annoyed by well-to-do people who slam their poorer neighbors for signing leases. That's not at all the same as saying "wealthy folks in Athens are the ones saying no to drilling." Not even close.

I don't mind people taking me to task for what I do say, but I really can't be held accountable to things that I never did say.