Blackberry Bushes versus Marcellus Shale Cash: There's No Contest

Aug 09 2010 Published by under Tales From The Coal Patch, Technology Gone Bad

At my local farmer's market right now, I can, if I choose, buy lovely fresh blackberries.  A half pint container costs around three or four dollars, depending which vendor you get them from.  They are incredible, but a luxury.

While I was in western PA last week for my uncle's funeral, one of my relatives made fresh blackberry cobbler.  She was also freezing blackberries, and making blackberry jam.  She and several other relatives had been out picking blackberries in an abundant wild patch, and would return several times more.  The berries were sweet and juicy and some were as big as your thumb.  The bushes gave more than they could pick; there were plenty for the humans and for the wild critters who fed on them as well.  While picking, they chanced to see a wild turkey and her brood toddling along off in the distance.

The berry bushes are on a scrap of land that's been more or less neglected up until now.  Not of much interest.  No one's wanted to build on it, so it sits there in its semi-wild glory, a haven to all sorts of critters, and its rambly berry bush patch yielding sweet fruit every August for those willing to do the work of harvest.

The person who owns the land is a business person who didn't pay a whole lot of money for the land when it was purchased.  Times are tough for all business people, and credit is tight, and people have to make a living.  Sadly for the berry bushes, and the turkey mama and her brood, they all have the misfortune to dwell above the Marcellus Shale.  The business person has been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for the drilling rights to the little scrap of land.  In order to drill, the land will need to be cleared devastated. They will spray the bushes and rip things out and put in roads and that will be the end of berry picking, spotting baby turkeys off in the distance, and sharing fresh blackberry cobbler with your grieving relatives.

No final decision has been made yet but it is hard to see how anyone can hold out, in a depressed economic climate, when offered that kind of cash for a small piece of land.  One might argue that blackberries and baby wild turkeys are priceless but you can't make your business payroll out of warm happy feelings about environmental preservation.  Individuals cannot be expected to be the guardians of our state's environmental treasures and the safety of our groundwater and streams and rivers.

Here's what the PA Department of Environmental Protection says (on its crappy website):

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is not involved in regulating lease agreements between mineral property owners and producers, except that minimum royalty payment is prescribed by law.  Lease agreements are contractual matters between private parties.  DEP does not audit payments, read or calibrate meters or tanks, or otherwise get involved in lease matters.

Of course not.  We can't interfere with private enterprise.  Out of the way, turkeys!  Begone, blackberries!  We've got poisonous wastewater to produce!  Let the fracking begin.

4 responses so far

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    If something is priceless, then it has no value. This is an unfortunate fact in doing environmental negotiation. On the other hand, if a price can be put on a bit of nature, it may be possible to save it. I recall years ago a scheme to harvest oyster reefs in Galveston Bay for road material died when it was shown that the dollar value of the intact reefs far exceeded their value as road material.

  • skeptifem says:

    WTF, price isn't related to value at all. What you are talking about are generally referred to as externalities in business, things that cannot be calculated sensibly so they are ignored. This is why shit like the financial crisis happened- people can calculate their profits, but not in relationship to the entire rest of the world, or even what their competition is doing. If everyones most profitable action = something that screws over the entire industry no one will see it coming. It is a natural fact of business, and is part of why economics is such a wanky major.

    Not to mention how two identical products can cost different amounts, based on how exploited the workers are. The labor and product didn't change, I see no sensible way to say that the value did.

  • Sargassosea says:

    This is terrible news, Zuska.

    It’s a total bummer but I’d like to recommend the film Gasland (http://gaslandthemovie.com/) to everyone who cares about great swaths of this country being poisoned by Haliburton‘s special brew.

    What the frak, indeed.

  • lcuy says:

    Unfortunately for the landowner too, PA has is considering legislation that would allow "pooling" - if a landowner won't sell his mineral rights, but his neighbor does, they can drain all the natural gas out from underneath him (ie: I drink your milkshake).
    If he doesn't allow for drilling, and this law passes, he has next to no chance of reselling. The law is supported by a lot of environmentalists, but the evidence that is will save much environment is minimal - they are still taking the resources, still poisoning the land, just drilling one less hole.