Fracking Broome CountyPosted: July 18, 2013
by Andrew Pragacz
According to information obtained from the Broome County Geographic Information System (BCGIS), there are over 112 square miles of land leased for natural gas development as of November 2012. This means that 1/7th of Broome County is under gas lease. Of those 112 square miles, 35 square miles is owned by people whose mailing addresses are outside of Broome County. Although some of these people live in neighboring Delaware and Chenango Counties the overwhelming majority live downstate in Nassau, Suffolk, and Kings Counties, the counties that contain Long Island and New York City. An additional seven square miles of leased land is own locally, but it is owned by holding companies, private organizations, and governments. What this means is that 42 square miles of leased land in Broome County is not held by those we typically imagine has a gas lease. It is almost always assumed that property with gas leases are held by a homeowner on that homeowners own piece of property. This newly acquired information, however, contradicts this assumption and provides a strong economic reason for Broome County not to allow fracking.
Over 35 square miles of land with a gas leases are owned by a non-residents of Broome County. From the information out on county owners we find an assortment of individuals and companies. Beside downstate residents, people and private companies from Malibu, California, Salt Lake City, Utah, Clearwater, Florida, Austin, Texas and New Jersey all own land in Broome County that is under lease to natural gas producers. Individuals and organizations that own leased land include: an investment company located in San Francisco, a Florida lawyer, a businessman from Los Angeles, a publicly traded mortgage company in New Jersey and numerous holding companies with mailing address from the Jersey Shore to Tampa. The list is also full of absentee landlords and real estate developers. Some of these people are former full time residents of the area who moved away either to retire or to find work. Given the prevalence of individuals and companies with downstate address purchasing land around or after the gas boom period, however, it seems likely that many of these properties were purchased with the sole intention of getting a gas drilling lease.
For local people this means that at least a third of all money made from signing gas leases did not go into the local community. This also means that at least of third of all royalties would leave Broome County immediately. Additionally, if hydraulic fracturing is allowed to go forward in Broome County at least 1/3rd of all money from royalties will never find its way into the local community, but instead go to people residing outside the county. One of the biggest industry selling points to the residents of Broome County is the potential economic impact of natural gas production for the region. The biggest source of direct economic investment according to academic surveys and articles would be from royalties to landowners. In economic impact surveys, however, academics and industry models assume that all money made through royalties will benefit the local area. The information presented here flies in the face of such logic and suggests that the potential economic benefit for the local area will be much lower than industry estimates.
Parcels owned by non-residents tend to be larger than plots owned by locals. There are almost 1800 parcels under lease in Broome County which means the average plot size for leased land is about 10 acres. Of those parcels 355 are owned by people whose primary residences is not within Broome County, putting their average parcel at 60 square acres or 6 times larger than the average. Although there are many factors gas producers take into account when deciding whether to frack or not to frack a piece of land, it makes sense they would choose larger plots with fewer homes. Larger plots mean they have more space to put waste water holding pits, erect massive natural gas storage units, build roads, drill wells, locate temporary offices, house vehicles, run natural gas pipelines, and install noisy compressor stations. Locating away from houses also seems to make common sense because such a move reduces the risk of well contamination and the headache of discontented homeowners with an industrial work site in their backyard.
In addition to the 35 square miles, or 1/3rd of all gas leases in Broome County, another seven square miles is owned by holding companies with local addresses, local businesses, and governments. Binghamton University, for example, owns 500 acres of leased land near Endicott. Broome County and the Town of Sanford both have leases on their land. The local companies that own and manage Traditions at the Glen Resort and Conference Center, Homestead Village at the Glen, and famed clam bake locale Mountain Top Grove, Dickerson Development Corporation, all have gas leases. Both Traditions and Mountain Top Grove are under lease. Along with these readily identifiable locations and companies, much land is owned by hard to trace Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs). Many have as their mailing addresses PO Boxes, CPA, or law offices.
What this means is that approximately 42 square miles under gas lease is owned by companies and individuals who do not live on the land for which they have leases. Unlike local home owners, the owners of these 42 square miles do not have to worry about their drinking water wells being contaminated, loud equipment in their backyards, their homes losing value, and exposing their families to dangerous chemicals. The owners of this land do not have the same concerns for the local quality of life because it is literally not in their backyard. All these entities care about is the money. If fracking goes forward on these lands, however, it will be in someone’s backyard. And that someone’s backyard will mostly likely be a resident of Broome County whose financial future is tied up in their home and the land. If fracking goes forward on any of these 42 square miles of land it means that a there will be local homeowners who: lose the rights to their property through “forced integration” (eminent domain done unilaterally by a private company), will be unable to insure, re-sell, or refinance their home, and whose water will be undrinkable. All of this done so people from Texas, wealthy Jersey suburbs, Long Island, and Florida can make a buck at our community’s expense.