Madison County's Red Lick Valley is my home. I live on family land at the end of a winding road on the northern slope and we grow our garden in soil we've built up from the clay and shale these knobs are known for.
Turns out, there's shale a ways deeper down, too — miles down, in fact, where it's caught the attention of some folks not from around here. Last fall, when a representative from Lexington Energy contacted my father and me about leasing the minerals that make up the bones of our land, I listened.
Now, as a Kentuckian, when folks from out of state show up looking to see what they can take from my land, it brings up some lessons from the past that I think we'd do well to remember. But I listened.
First, I listened as he explained that they were a Utah-based company. Then I listened as he explained the process of hydraulic fracturing (fracking); listened as he told me they were looking to develop both oil and gas; listened when he said that if they found it, they'd be on our land to stay.
And I read the lease that he sent us, read it from one end to the other, and what I saw there set my blood to boiling.
Because not only was this company coming in from Utah — where the once-pristine air of the Uintah Valley is heavy with smog that rivals Los Angeles' since the oil and gas companies moved in.
And not only were they bringing with them the promise of the public health and land/air/water contamination crises that are mighty well-documented in other places where the industry has settled, but the contract itself was just about the most offensively one-sided agreement I've ever bothered to read through.
It would grant permission to frack, absolutely, and the risks that come with it. Permission to drill wastewater injection wells on our land, so that millions of gallons of chemical-laden "flowback" water could be trucked in and blasted into our home, making us the dumping ground for someone else's filth. These injection wells have also been clearly connected with earthquakes, and there's no royalty percentage that goes with them, either.
The contract also includes permission to build roads, of course, and all the other infrastructure that goes along with this sort of operation. Permission to retain mineral rights indefinitely. And permission to hand our rights to our own land over all for a pittance of what landowners have been offered elsewhere.
We were offered $30 an acre.
According to a legal website I recently viewed, payments have recently been as high as $5,000 an acre elsewhere. There were even clauses protecting the company from legal action should they fail to pay up (which has been an issue in other parts of the country).
I'll be clear about this: I've seen too much devastation elsewhere, and read far too many scientific studies about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing (and oil and gas development, in general) to consider inviting it into my home.
I've read industry reports that show that a bare minimum of six percent of wells leak within the first year, with estimates of long-term leakage ranging from 40 to 75 percent. I learned about benzene, formaldehyde, hydrogen sulfide and a whole slough of other cancer- and birth-defect- and brain-damage-causing poisons measured far beyond legal health limits in areas with fracking. Dead cattle and stillborn calves. Contaminated drinking water aquifers. And did I mention smog?
But even if I didn't know any of that, even if I never questioned the assurances or agendas of the company men, I would have never, ever signed a lease that showed such utter contempt for my rights, my intelligence and my business sense.
I would encourage anyone with an interest in the health and integrity of our commonwealth to take the time to slog through the legalese of these lease agreements, do the research and come to your own conclusions about what exactly it is that these out-of-state "land men" are offering us.
Because to me, it smells not only rotten, but a little bit too familiar for us to swallow ever again.