Hydraulic Fracturing Brings Risks and Rewards to Pennsylvania

The advent of hydraulic fracturing has brought a whole new economy to Pennsylvania. Fracking - which uses pressurized water, sand and chemicals to force natural gas out of underground pockets - has unlocked a huge and previously untappable reserve of gas in the Marcellus Shale. In 2011 alone, the Marcellus Shale supplied 6 percent of America's natural gas. That number is only expected to grow as fracking technology becomes more advanced.

Many people stand to make money off the Marcellus Shale fracking boom. Of course, the oil and gas companies have the most to gain, but there are also opportunities for ordinary Pennsylvanians. Landowners, for example, may be able to earn money by allowing fracking companies to place wells on their property.

These opportunities, though, are not without their risks. Before getting involved with the fracking industry, it is important for people to get the information they need to protect their rights and their safety.

Understanding Fracking Leases

Landowners whose property lies above a natural gas repository can generate significant income by allowing fracking companies to access the gas. It is not rare for initial lease payments to run in the six figures. Ongoing royalty payments can push the financial gains even higher.

However, it is extremely important for landowners to make sure they fully understand the terms of the agreement before signing a lease. Many leases require landowners to give up a significant amount of control over their property. In addition, fracking has the potential to cause serious environmental damage.

In 2011, The New York Times analyzed more than 111,000 fracking leases from six states, including Pennsylvania. Among its findings were the following:

  • Only about half of fracking leases will compensate landowners for damage to livestock, crops or drinking water
  • Most leases give fracking companies the right to remove trees, store chemicals and build roads wherever they want
  • Most leases do not disclose the potential environmental hazards that fracking can present, even though federal law requires the disclosure
  • Approximately two-thirds of the leases allowed fracking companies to extend the agreements without consulting landowners

These are just some of the many concerns with fracking leases. As such, it is important for landowners not only to be fully informed, but also to make sure that the lease payments are sufficient given the landowner's potential loss of autonomy and environmental protection. It is always a good idea to consult with an attorney and to take the time to fully consider all of the potential risks and benefits of signing a fracking lease.

Injuries From Fracking Sites

Fracking also has the potential to cause serious injury, both to workers and to people who live near extraction sites.

Fracking sites routinely use hazardous chemicals to break open the rock and push the natural gas out through the wellhead. Prolonged exposure to these fracking fluids has been known to cause injuries, including liver damage, kidney problems, lung irritation and low blood pressure.

It is not just workers who are at risk of coming into contact with poisonous fracking fluid. The chemicals can leech into groundwater, where they might contaminate an entire community's supply of drinking water.

At nearly all fracking sites, sand is pumped in along with the chemicals. This sand creates clouds of dust that contain particles of respirable crystalline silica. Breathing in this dust can cause long-term health problems including lung cancer, silicosis, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease and autoimmune disorders.

In addition, fracking workers are at risk of encountering injuries from explosions, wall collapses and heavy machinery. As with all physical jobs, repetitive stress injuries and back problems are also a possibility.

When in Doubt, Talk to an Attorney

None of this is to say that hydraulic fracturing is inherently a bad thing. It is important, however, to be fully aware of the risks and to take steps to protect your rights. Before signing a fracking lease, be sure to thoroughly review the terms of the agreement and consider the health risks. If you become injured, talk to a Pennsylvania personal injury or workers' compensation attorney who can help hold the responsible parties accountable.