DEP issues well permit for unleased land
BY BRENDAN GIBBONS
Joyce Libal opened her diary to an entry from 1978. A grainy photo taped inside showed the old farmhouse in Susquehanna County when she first bought it.
Mrs. Libal, 63, and her husband, Steve, 65, moved to Apolacon Twp. from Detroit in 1977, seeking a peaceful rural life in close company with nature. He is retired from the Food and Drug Administration, she from work as a freelance writer and editor.
Starting around 2008, landmen for various gas companies began approaching them offering leases. They said they turned down a half-dozen offers from different gas companies.
“We’ve never been attracted by a lot of money,” Mr. Libal said. Still, he said they would look at a lease of $5,500 an acre, 20 percent royalties and no surface disturbance. No gas company that contacted them was interested.
That’s why the Libals were shocked in September when they discovered a well plat map filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection that showed a plan to drill beneath their unleased property.
Talisman Energy USA submitted the permit. The Libals discovered their well plan because of a neighbor who often buys beans at their roadside produce stand. Grove Doty, a councilman of nearby Friendsville, was buying beans from the Libals in August, Mr. Libal said. Mr. Doty mentioned a packet of materials the borough had received showing a well on their property.
“So now I’m really curious,” Mr. Libal recalls thinking.
He wanted to see the documents for himself, so he attended the borough council’s meeting in early September. He took home a plat map showing Talisman’s well on the Olympic Lake Estates.
The map shows a dotted line indicating a well extending from one side to the other of the Libals’ 63 acres.
On Oct. 11, the department approved the Talisman well, one of 10 on a well pad on a nearby property, according to the well permit.
First, the Libals double-checked their deed to make sure they own their mineral rights. They then contacted the DEP on Sept. 18, asking the geologist in charge of the permit application to cancel it.
On Sept. 19, they got a call from a landman from Long Consulting Group asking them again if they were interested in leasing, Mr. Libal said.
“We were really surprised that a landman called so quickly after we talked to (the DEP),” Mr. Libal said.
“But it was reassuring to us that we really did have the mineral rights,” Mrs. Libal said.
In an email the Libals shared with The Times-Tribune, the DEP made it clear that the Libals would have to deal with Talisman themselves if a trespass did occur.
“The department does not concern itself with lease issues on wells that are not subject to conservation law,” Brian Babb, professional geologist manager with the DEP’s office in Meadville, told the Libals in an email.
“If an operator fails to acquire necessary rights before drilling, the operator could be subject to the laws of trespass as applicable,” Mr. Babb continued.
On Oct. 15, the Libals received a letter saying the well permit had been approved. Two days later, a Talisman representative called and said they had canceled the permit, Mr. Libal said.
In a phone interview, Talisman spokesperson April Crane made a distinction between the company’s planning process and its eventual progression to drilling.
“Obviously, we can’t drill a well where we don’t have a lease,” Ms. Crane said. She did not explain why the company filed a plat map with the DEP that showed their well going through the Libal’s land.
“As a courtesy, we requested that the approved well permit be canceled,” Ms. Crane said. “We actually pride ourselves for working collaboratively and respectfully with landowners.”
It’s not clear whether Talisman would have gone ahead with the well if it were not for the Libals’ request. The permit application “doesn’t mean that we have an immediate progression to drill that well,” Ms. Crane said.
DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman said in an email that a well operator only must submit a plat with its initial application. The company then must submit “specific locational information” within 30 days of completing a well, she said, though another plat map is not required.
After learning the well permit has been canceled, Mrs. Libal said in an email that they feel more at ease now that they don’t have to hire an attorney or prepare an appeal to the DEP.
Gas companies should be compelled to notify all landowners whose properties are affected by a proposed well and certify that those properties are leased, she said.
She would also like to see the DEP place a moratorium on new permits for a company that includes unleased land in its application, as well as require well operators to submit updated plat maps showing updated drill paths.
The gas industry is still a part of their daily lives. They are concerned about the gas lines that will sprout from nearby well pads. On Saturday, Mr. Libal counted the trucks that passed his house bearing gravel for well pad construction. He stopped counting at 80 in four hours, Mrs. Libal said.
“The peace and tranquility we sought and found here after moving here from Detroit 35 years ago is quickly disappearing,” Mrs. Libal said.