When a pair of presenters from Ohio State University Extension finished an educational workshop last Thursday in the Gambit Event Center entitled, “Leasing Farmland for Oil and Gas Production,” Johnson County resident and landowner Verna Taylor left with as many questions as she arrived with.
Taylor took notes and listened in as the duo spoke to a packed house as more than 100 attendees joined her in their pursuit to learn more about hydraulic fracturing and what signing a lease might mean to their future.
“I still have more questions,” said Taylor, “but this was a good start.”
Taylor, like many of those in attendance, arrived wanting to learn more about a lease proposal she recently received and said the workshop revealed there is much more to it than what appears on the surface.
Like the process of hydraulic fracturing itself, the only way to learn more is to drill a little deeper into every word of the lease, said Clif Little, associate professor, OSU extension educator specializing in agriculture and natural resources. Then break it apart.
Professor Little spoke about the many ways leases are vaguely written after associate professor, OSU extension educator Chris Penrose took the group on a road trip through the backyards of Ohio’s recently-mined territory. Pipes, casings, trucks, sand and water mixing units, gas storage facilities, drill sites, different counties, different angles of erector-set looking drill platforms all went up on a screen like a neighbor’s vacation slideshow to a foreign territory where the food taste great, but indigestion is not far behind. Every fascinating detail the two delivered was met with an equally fascinating warning that the presenters summed up into one overall theme, “Before you sign a lease, speak to an attorney.”
The workshop in Vienna was one of three made available in the area through the combined efforts of Illinois’ southernmost Illinois farm bureaus and University of Illinois Extension units to help the people of Southern Illinois better understand what hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is all about.
“There is a lot to fracking to learn about and most people don’t even know that they don’t know,” said Connie Beck, Saline County director for University of Illinois Extension. “These two have a lot of personal experience dealing with fracking in Ohio, so we were happy we could bring them here to help out.”
The educational workshop was not out to debate the pros and cons of the fracking process itself, but rather provide a forum, in which people could use to start their own research and come to their own conclusions, said Beck. The workshop was also offered in Harrisburg and Carterville and Beck said there were several requests to do them again.
Fracking in Johnson County is not certain to begin anytime in the foreseeable future, but the leasing of oil and gas rights is steadily growing here as the county clerk’s office recently reported more than 100 leases have already been signed since May.
“I think we probably had three different constituencies here,” said Ron Duncan, community and economic development extension educator for University of Illinois Extension office in Vienna. Duncan said landowners who have signed, landowners who have been approached but have not signed and people generally opposed to fracking made up the audience at Thursday’s workshop. “So, I think the crowd was made up of, I don’t want to say equal parts, but there was a representation of each one of those constituencies here.”
Duncan reiterated the meeting was not to debate fracking, but provide the broadest base of information about the basics of the oil and gas production that is proposed for Johnson County.
“This is not about a positive or negative on fracking, or should we do it, or is it environmentally safe, it was more targeted to landowners and other stakeholders to make sure they had all the considerations they needed to look at before they entered into any agreement with any company,” said Duncan.
As professor Little took apart a lease handed to him by a member of the audience, he attempted to put the power of lease negotiations back into the hands of the landowners.
“You are your own best friend and your own worst friend when it comes to leasing,” said Little. “You establish the price, you establish the terms, and you establish what it is that you, the seller, are selling. Before you sign anything, speak with an attorney.”
For more information on fracking or to obtain a copy of the slideshow presented at Thursday’s workshop, check with Vienna’s University of Illinois Extension office at 208 E. Main or on its Web site at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/ajmpu/.