Friday, August 1, 2008

Windfall

Over the last few months, excited murmurs have given way to boomtown glee over a bed of rock called the Haynesville Shale. In truth, it’s not the rock that has caused this hysteria, but what may be the world’s 4th largest natural gas deposit locked-up in it. Extraction companies are clamoring for mineral rights that have been made relevant by this discovery and by recent developments in extraction technology.
It’s in Dubai? The rich Canadian gas fields? Siberia? Nope. The Haynesville Shale spreads out around Shreveport, Louisiana, a burg of around 200,000 people. What’s interested the press lately is the fact that the shale also extends into some economically depressed areas in northwestern Louisiana. Stories have begun to appear about small-towners turned overnight millionaires by leasing their mineral rights. Unfortunately, there’s also been talk here and there about people being swindled out of mineral rights for a few thousand dollars.
I happened to read an article about the Haynesville rush today, moments after reading an article about the use of cyanobacteria to produce ostensibly carbon-neutral fuel. This begs a few questions, some of which I’ll put to the reader:
Should landowners in this situation lease their mineral rights? Is there an ethical question here vis-à-vis climate change? Does anyone outside the area being drilled have a right to weigh-in on this? Can anyone hold it against someone living in or near poverty for accepting an offer to make outlandishly rich? How about if the offer simply makes that landowner less poor?

3 comments:

Chris Crawford said...

At first glance, I don't see anything wrong with a landowner selling mineral rights to any buyer. I would argue that moral responsibility for carbon release falls on the end user, not the producer. Yes, we as a society have a responsibility to establish responsible production standards to protect the local environment. But I can't fault individuals for pursuing their own best interests in this matter.

There's another argument to consider: increased use of natural gas offsets some use of coal, which yields a net decrease in carbon release.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris C.
I'm inclined to agree that the demand side is generally a more appropriate driver than the supply side in this sort of situation. It's also important to note that while there are more sustainable technologies to provide energy, none have been deployed to the extent that we can simply stop extracting fossil fuels. Until we have a cogent plan to replace fossil fuels underway, we remain married to them. Mobilizing a cogent plan should be a major priority at this time.
I also agree that natural gas is in many respects a better fuel than coal. Carbon aside, coal mining has serious implications for surface hydrology (and as Sue has often pointed out, high human costs), while the use of coal introduces sulfur oxides and even radioactive materials into the surrounding community. If we have to burn something we dug up, I'd rather it were gas.

Pat Jenkins said...

this reminds of the beverly hillbillies striking it rich erd!!.....