About 100 local residents heard a plea Wednesday from a committee of fellow landowners to join together in a coalition to negotiate better deals from companies seeking rights to drill for natural gas in the region.
“We’re not telling people what to do … but people who got together have gotten better deals than people who stood alone,” said committee member Earl Van Wormer III.
“We’re not forcing anybody to do anything … but we’re hoping enough people form a coalition,” he said. Even owners of small land holdings could join.
Van Wormer chairs the county Board of Supervisors, but he said he was speaking as an Esperance landowner with about 100 acres of sheep pasture and forest, not as a local official.
Like most of the five-member steering committee, Van Wormer said he’s already been approached by gas company “landmen” seeking to lease drilling rights in underground shale formations.
Jeff Decker, a Broome County farmer who started CoalitionConnection.com to negotiate leases for a group of landowners in the Vestal area, was invited by the committee to explain his group’s offer of similar services.
He claimed that the group’s presence at a preliminary meeting at SUNY Cobleskill on May 29 has already pushed local leasing offers higher.
Decker, CoalitionConnection.com attorney James Ward and lease marketer Vince Stalis urged local residents to hold out for “landowner-friendly leases” and not take company leases they might be offered.
“Together, we can make a more attractive offer to the energy companies,” Decker said.
Six months ago, companies were offering $70 per acre for leases in the Binghamton area, according to Stalis. Now, he said some are offering $2,500 per acre for unproven gas exploration areas.
“The gas has been here for 300 million years; it’s not going anywhere. Don’t fall for it,” said Stalis in advising people to join the coalition to seek the best deals.
By paying the coalition, typically $20 to $30 per acre, if it successfully negotiates a lease for a collective group of landowners, Decker said landowners stand a better chance of making more money while protecting their land from environmental impacts and royalty rights.
“It eliminates dealing with the landmen,” Decker said. “You’ll be negotiating directly with the energy companies.”
Some landowners were skeptical at Wednesday’s meeting, both about the wisdom of leasing drilling rights and whether to pay fees for a coalition to shop for better leases.
Sharon resident Peter Cookson worried that drilling might affect local water volume or quality.
Another Sharon farmer, Alfred Santillo, feared drillers would disrupt the peace and quiet of the area as well as damage land and water.
“All these bozos have to do is make one mistake,” said Santillo.
He said he turned down a $32,000 lease offer for his 324 acres last week from a company called Elexco.
“Whether you like it or not, Schoharie County is in play,” said steering committee member David Huse, a Warnerville beef cattle raiser. “That’s what the coalition is here to protect us from,” he said.
“It’s not about money, it’s about protecting our rights,” said committee member Stacy Della Femina, who owns 130 acres in Cobleskill.
The committee organized the discussions and invited Decker after advance men from various companies starting approaching local landowners this spring.
Huse, who owns about 700 acres in Richmondville and Cobleskill, said he was one of the first landowners in the county to be approached, but he decided to wait to learn more about the process.
So far, Huse said, about 2,200 acres have been leased for gas rights from nine landowners in the county.
“If [wells] do produce, it’s going to change this area dramatically,” said Stalis, a Chemung County leasing marketer for CoalitionConnection.com.
He warned that the state allows companies with rights to 60 percent of the land in a state-designated unit to drill horizontally under neighboring land, even if those owners don’t have lease agreements.
Even without a lease, owners of such land are entitled to a 12.5 percent royalty on gas produced. They would not get any potentially lucrative up-front bonus, though, he said, or potentially higher royalties.
Della Femina, a self-described professional researcher and marketer, volunteered to help gather information about potential drilling impacts as well as names of landowners interested in forming a local coalition.
Also on the five-member steering committee are Stanley France and Sandie Prokop.
While initially centered in Schoharie County, Van Wormer said, the group likely wouldn’t rule out including landowners from neighboring counties, such as Schenectady, Albany or Otsego. Even owners of a few acres might join.
Northern Schoharie County towns have attracted particular interest from drilling speculators, Huse said, partly because of the existence of the Tennessee Gas pipeline that already carries natural gas across the region to markets.