Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Landowners Say Gas Companies Kept Them in the Dark on Risks

Energy

Environmental Working Group

Gas drilling companies routinely warn their investors of a litany of possible disasters—such as leaks, spills, explosions, bodily injury and even death—but regularly fail to mention these risks when persuading landowners to sign leases for drilling rights, an Environmental Working Group (EWG) investigation found.

EWG researchers compared federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings and natural gas drilling leases used by major companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling and found that, at best, the leases offered only vague mentions of risks that are explicitly listed in the legally required SEC reports. Twenty-three landowners in five states who had signed or been asked to sign drilling leases also told EWG that company representatives who offered the leases made no mention of possible risks.

“These landowners who were left in the dark about drilling risks are likely just the tip of the iceberg,” said EWG senior counsel Dusty Horwitt, J.D. “Industry documents, regulators and lawyers all indicate that there may be thousands of landowners who unknowingly put their water, homes and health at risk by signing natural gas leases. It’s time to level the playing field so that landowners know the facts about drilling before they sign a lease.”

Federal law designed to protect investors against fraud requires companies to disclose “the most significant factors that make the offering speculative or risky.” But in the midst of perhaps the largest natural gas rush in U.S. history, there has been little or no regulation of the transactions that give drilling companies access to private lands atop gas and oil reserves.

“We were never told about any kind of risks whatsoever,” Craig Sautner of Dimock, Penn., told an EWG researcher. Craig and his wife Julie leased about 3½ acres to Houston-based Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. in 2008.

Water wells serving the Sautners and 18 other nearby families were contaminated and became unusable after Cabot began drilling in 2009, according to Pennsylvania officials. Cabot, which has publicly disputed the finding, did not respond to EWG’s request for comment. The state recently lifted an order requiring Cabot to provide replacement water to the families over the objection of the Sautners, who say their well water is still contaminated. Several affected residents in Dimock, including the Sautners, have sued Cabot for damages.

The company’s 2008 10-K form filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission contains explicit warnings that appear nowhere in the Sautners’ lease agreement and that the couple says never came up in their discussions with company representatives:

“Our business involves a variety of operating risks, including—well site blowouts, cratering and explosions; equipment failures; uncontrolled flows of natural gas, oil or well fluids; fires; formations with abnormal pressures; pollution and other environmental risks; and natural disasters.

“Any of these events could result in injury or loss of human life.”

The pollution in Dimock is not an isolated incident. State officials in Wyoming, Ohio and Colorado have documented recent cases of water contamination linked to natural gas drilling, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has documented serious problems associated with drilling as far back as 1987. On Thursday, Dec. 8, the EPA also concluded that fracking could be responsible for a case of groundwater contamination in Wyoming.

EWG’s report calls on states to require that companies disclose drilling risks to landowners in the same way the SEC requires it for shareholders.

  • Click here to view the report online.
  • For more information on gas and oil drilling, click here.

For more information, click here.

—————

Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C. that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. Click here to visit our website.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A child stands in what is left of his house in Utuado, Puerto Rico, which was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Maria, on Oct. 12, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Jon-Paul Rios. Flickr, CC by 2.0
By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

To hear many journalists tell it, the spring of 2020 has brought a series of extraordinary revelations. Look at what the nation has learned: That our health-care system was not remotely up to the challenge of a deadly pandemic. That our economic safety net was largely nonexistent. That our vulnerability to disease and death was directly tied to our race and where we live. That our political leadership sowed misinformation that left people dead. That systemic racism and the killing of Black people by police is undiminished, despite decades of protest and so many Black lives lost.
Read More Show Less
President Trump's claim last September that Hurricane Dorian was headed for Alabama's gulf coast was quickly refuted by employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). An independent investigation found that NOAA's chief violated the agency's ethics when he backed Trump's warning and doctored map that used a Sharpie to alter the storm's path, as EcoWatch reported.
Read More Show Less
African bush elephants in the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve in Botswana on Nov. 22, 2016. Michael Jansen / Flickr

More than 350 elephants have died in Botswana since May, and no one knows why.

Read More Show Less
People relax in Victoria Gardens with the Houses of Parliament in the background in central London, as a heatwave hit the continent with temperatures touching 40 degrees Celsius on June 25, 2020. NIKLAS HALLE'N / AFP via Getty Images

The chance that UK summer days could hit the 40 degree Celsius mark on the thermometer is on the rise, a new study from the country's Met Office Hadley Centre has found.

Read More Show Less
A crowd of people congregate along Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, Florida on June 26, 2020, amid a surge in coronavirus cases. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP / Getty Images

By Melissa Hawkins

After sustained declines in the number of COVID-19 cases over recent months, restrictions are starting to ease across the United States. Numbers of new cases are falling or stable at low numbers in some states, but they are surging in many others. Overall, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of new cases a day, and by late June, had surpassed the peak rate of spread in early April.

Read More Show Less
A Chesapeake Energy drilling rig is located on farmland near Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, on March 20, 2012. Melanie Stetson Freeman / The Christian Science Monitor / Getty Images

By Eoin Higgins

Climate advocates pointed to news Sunday that fracking giant Chesapeake Energy was filing for bankruptcy as further evidence that the fossil fuel industry's collapse is being hastened by the coronavirus pandemic and called for the government to stop propping up businesses in the field.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Youth participate in the Global Climate Strike in Providence, Rhode Island on September 20, 2019. Gabriel Civita Ramirez / CC by 2.0

By Neil King and Gabriel Borrud

Human beings all over the world agreed to strict limitations to their rights when governments made the decision to enter lockdown during the COVID-19 crisis. Many have done it willingly on behalf of the collective. So why can't this same attitude be seen when tackling climate change?

Read More Show Less