Drilling conflicts are almost always described in the context of their impacts on air, water and health. But increasingly, as the drilling boom sweeps the country, another part of the drilling story is starting to bubble up in drilling hotspots like Colorado, Pennsylvania, New York, Wyoming and Texas.
Increasingly, oil and gas development is butting up against, and often trampling, the bedrock American principles of property rights and the value of one’s home. The map below shows all the shale gas in play in North America.
Industry estimates peg the number new wells that will be drilled across the U.S. over the next decade at more than 200,000. In this rush to tap once unreachable deposits, oil and gas development is pushing the boundaries of drilling. Innovations like fracking and horizontal drilling mean nothing is out of reach. Once the province of wide open spaces, drilling rigs now regularly inch up and even into communities that never anticipated having to address problems like round-the-clock noise, storage tanks, drums of toxic chemicals, noxious fumes, and pipelines near homes, schools, playgrounds and parks.
This clash of large-scale industrial activity and communities has surfaced a deep rift in the American landscape, where the legal doctrine of split estates allows one party to own mineral rights and someone else to hold the rights to soil and surface. With the oil and gas industry showing little self-restraint in where drilling happens, and almost no regulatory or legal precedents to protect them from having industrial activity in their back yards, communities are fighting back. Increased truck traffic, chemicals, lights, noise, heavy equipment, noxious air emissions and water contamination are liabilities for landowners, to the point that communities in Colorado, New York and other states have taken matters into their own hands.
Feeling unprotected by weak state and oil and gas regulations—most of which were developed never contemplating drilling in urban and suburban landscapes—towns, cities and counties are instituting moratoria and bans on drilling within their borders. There are fracking-related ballot measures in at least four Colorado communities this year.
But it’s not just “not-in-my-back-yard”-ism driving this reactive opposition. The financial risks posed by drilling are real and substantial enough, for example, that banks and insurers are adopting guidelines that forbid mortgage loans or insurance coverage on properties affected by drilling. It’s a battle between oil and gas and the nest egg of countless Americans.
The following examples begin to piece together the ways in which the threats posed by drilling and the deep pockets of the oil and gas industry quite literally hit home. Taken together, they are a call for decision-makers to start quantifying data and asking tough questions about drilling vs. the American Dream. Read more…