Somewhere in this country, an oilman is turning over in his grave at all the fuss being raised in Ohio over leasing mineral rights under a cemetery.
The Lowellville Cemetery in eastern Ohio was offered a lease and 16% royalties by a Ft. Worth company for any shale gas found under the property. One of the original headlines on an Associated Press (AP) story about the lease offer said it raised moral questions.
The local residents interviewed for the story made it seem like the leasing company was going to bring a drilling rig into the cemetery and move graves to make a drilling pad. One woman said she didn’t like the idea since she didn’t want anyone disturbing the dead.
By the time the story had made it into several newspapers that were not industry friendly, the headlines were accusing the leasing agent of all kinds of weird activities that had nothing to do with the proposed well.
As the AP story pointed out, the rig could be located well away from the cemetery proper and the horizontal drilling at depth would not impact the surface.
But, that’s not what sells newspapers. Calling into question a moral issue about drilling under a cemetery makes much better reading than the actual facts.
This wouldn’t be the first cemetery to lease its mineral rights. As noted, several cemeteries in Texas have leased mineral rights and were able to pay for cemetery maintenance even when the economy was down.
The Catholic Cemeteries Association in Pittsburgh leased 1,200 acres under 11 cemeteries in 2008, well before the brouhaha over horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing became front-page news. The five-year lease was publicized in 2010, allowing a local city councilman to push through a citywide drilling ban.
If it wasn’t a moral issue for the Catholics, why is it a moral issue now? I don’t doubt that there are a lot of cemeteries in Oklahoma and Louisiana – or in any oil- and gas-producing state – that are royalty owners, too.
It is interesting to see how we treat cemeteries in the US. There are some cities that have run out of room for more graves. Arlington National Cemetery comes to mind as one that doesn’t have much room to expand. The last expansion of the cemetery was in 2005 when 40 acres and 26,000 grave sites were added at a cost of $12 million.
However, some neighbors don’t want a bigger cemetery next door. When the Sunshine Cemetery in Corpus Christi, Texas, wanted to expand in 1999, residents in nearby subdivisions protested.
The reasons why the neighbors didn’t want the expansion sound very similar to what opponents have said about drilling and fracing shale gas wells. It’s funny to hear that 13 years ago the subdivisions were worried about an increase in vehicle traffic, noise from 21-gun salutes, and a decline in property values.
At the rate we are going, we will NIMBY (not in my backyard) ourselves into straightjackets that even Harry Houdini could not escape. BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything) was next up the opposition’s ladder. And, of course, there is NOPE (nowhere on planet Earth).
Somewhere amid all of this rhetoric is a balance that must be struck. Now would be a good time to weigh all of the consequences – beneficial and otherwise – not just the ones in your backyard.
Contact the author, Scott Weeden, at email@example.com.
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