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Commentary by Susan Harman-Scott
Wells Fargo & Company, both the largest home mortgage lender in the United States and a major lender to the country’s second largest producer of natural gas, Chesapeake Energy Corp., refuses to make home loans for properties encumbered with natural gas drilling leases.
Some of those who signed leases for drilling so-called coal-bed methane in Colorado and then experienced problems ended up with losses on their homes that reached 85 percent. In some instances, property owners merely situated near drilling and production have suffered. A Pennsylvania couple was recently denied a new mortgage on their home and hobby farm because according to the lender “gas wells and other structures in nearby lots…can significantly degrade a property’s value.” The owners came to the logical conclusion that if they cannot refinance their own home, no potential buyer would likely be able to get a mortgage to purchase it should the couple ever want to sell.
Others who’ve had their water supply contaminated but could not prove it was due to nearby natural gas drilling are facing a wipeout since their homes are now worth far less than the mortgages on them. Some of those people will simply end up walking away in order to protect the health of their families.
…homeowners insurance almost always excludes damage from industrial operations on one’s residential property, Radow writes. And, that’s what natural gas drilling is, an industrial operation. Even for those who escape the problems of water contamination and human and animal health effects, there remains the ever present possibility of damaging explosions and fires from drilling and production operations. Homeowners insurance won’t pay for that either. How the fracking mess is about to make the mortgage mess worse
So these will be damages that the landowner bears without restitution from the state, the fracking operator, or his insurer. How does the current fracking bill and regulation address these issues? I believe that there has been no provision for the damages landowners who do not own their mineral rights incur. We are on our own and I do not believe folks realize this.
The second fracking issue is that I have not been able to find much about any proposed severance tax on removal of the taxpayers’ natural resources. There is some vague reference in the 1945 act, but not a clear rate. In other oil and gas states, severance taxes are hefty and form a large portion of the state’s revenue stream. I would think that our legislators would be trumpeting the potential massive new tax revenue we would realize from the removal of our natural resources. Do they contemplate giving the resources away to these operators with zero taxes? I’ll do a little more research, but Sen. Cook and Rep. Tine should be able to tell you right away what the anticipated tax structure would be for this wonderful new industry taking our irreplaceable resources. However, I am almost certain that they can’t because there is no tax. Some states maintain a fund to pay the taxpayers for damages or even issue a check to every citizen from the tax revenue, as they do in Alaska. Additionally, the fees collected relating to fracking will not go to the county where the resources are removed, but will all go to the state.