The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
How a Fracking Company Tried to Buy Pennsylvania Residents' Approval For $50,000
The health risks of living near a fracking site aren't lost on energy companies who participate in the practice, and neither is the pushback from nearby residents. Still, the earning potential is far too enticing for companies to cave in.
That might be why EQT Corp. attempted to buy approval from the residents of Finleyville, a small town near Pittsburgh where the company is increasing its hold by drilling nearly a dozen new wells. According to an investigation by ProPublica, the company offered $50,000 in cash to residents on Cardox Road if they absolved of EQT of legal liability for health issues, property damage and the impacts from noise, dust, light, smoke, odors, fumes, soot, air pollution and vibrations.
"I was insulted," Gary Baumgardner, a resident who was offered the money in January, told the nonprofit news organizaiton. "We're being pushed out of our home and they want to insult us with this offer."
Baumgardner doesn't bother hanging up pictures because of the vibrations. He described his home near EQT's operations as "often not livable." He had air quality monitors installed in his home, and sometimes they flashed bright red. His pregnant daughter eventually received an advisory from her doctor not to live near a fracking site. When Baumgardner complained to EQT, he received "constant dismissals, excuses, delays and broken promises," he said.
EQT's offer is not unlike the nuisance easements offered to residents near airports, landfills and even wind farms. However, Pennsylvania gas lease attorney Doug Clark says such an offer is rare in the oil and gas sector. Clark finds EQT's conditions to be rare, too. For $50,000, the company also wanted liability protection for things it might do in the future, including constructing pipelines, power lines, roads, tanks, ponds, pits, compressor stations, houses and buildings.
"The release is so incredibly broad and such a laundry list," Clark said. "You're releasing for everything including activity that hasn't even occurred yet. It's crazy."
An EQT spokeswoman declined to discuss specifics, but believed that "approximately 85 percent of the residents" that of the property owners who were approached signed their agreements. An early version of the agreement required 30 property owners to sign before cash would be distributed. The company changed that requirement after experiencing resistance.
Clark doesn't expect many companies to make similar offers because it might tip residents off to the potential harm of their operations. Still, not every Finleyville resident reported a bad experience.
"I cannot complain about the drilling to this point," said Muriel Spencer, a resident who lives about 500 feet from the site.
Spencer was able to negotiate a five-year term on EQT's liability instead of agreeing to the original, indefinite terms.
"[EQT] has been nothing but fair with me," she said.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jake Johnson
Just over a month after proclaiming that the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. would soon "be down to close to zero," President Donald Trump said during a press briefing on the White House lawn Sunday that limiting U.S. deaths from the pandemic to between 100,000 and 200,000 people would mean his administration and the country as a whole did "a very good job."
Documents unearthed in a lawsuit brought by a Missouri farmer who claimed that Monsanto and German chemical maker BASF's dicamba herbicide ruined his peach orchard revealed that the two companies knew their new agricultural seed and chemical system would likely damage many U.S. farms, according to documents seen by The Guardian.
By Albert Van Dijk, Luigi Renzullo, Marta Yebra and Shoshana Rapley
2019 was the year Australians confronted the fact that a healthy environment is more than just a pretty waterfall in a national park; a nice extra we can do without. We do not survive without air to breathe, water to drink, soil to grow food and weather we can cope with.
By Fino Menezes
Everyone adores dolphins. Intelligent, inquisitive and playful, these special creatures have captivated humans since the dawn of time. But dolphins didn't get to where they are by accident — they needed to develop some pretty amazing superpowers to cope with their environment.