Pennsylvania frackers are buying off aggrieved residents for $50,000 each

The deal would prevent those harmed by drilling operations from pursuing more costly lawsuits

Topics: fracking, Pennsylvania, Oil and Gas, Air pollution, lawsuits, ,

Residents of Finleyville, Pennsylvania, aggrieved by the new fracking operation in town are being approached with an enticing/”aggressive” offer, ProPublica reports. Release the drillers, EQT Corp., of all liability for every way their operations might disrupt their health, property and quality of life, and the company will give them $50,000 cash.

It’s certainly a better deal than a coupon for free pizza. It’s a lot less than the $3 million a family in Texas was awarded for health and property damages in a landmark case against a fracking company.

And in exchange for the payout, residents are releasing the company from legal liability for everything:

…any and all liabilities, obligations, agreements, damages, causes of action suits, rights, remedies, demands, costs, expenses and losses for injuries to persons, personal property, real property of Landowner or the Property (including, but not limited to, surface, timber and water damage), annoyance, inconvenience, nuisance, pain and suffering, whether known or unknown, whenever occurring (past, present, or future) and whether now existing or yet to accrue, arising from or relating in any way whatsoever to the Operations.

The easement also lets EQT off the hook for the “noise, dust, light, smoke, odors, fumes, soot or other air pollution, vibrations, adverse impacts or other conditions or nuisances which may emanate from or be caused by” its operations.

“The release is so incredibly broad and such a laundry list,” Doug Clark, a gas lease attorney in Pennsylvania who mainly represents landowners, told ProPublica. “You’re releasing for everything including activity that hasn’t even occurred yet. It’s crazy.”

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About 85 percent of the 30 residents offered the deal have signed, according to a company spokesperson. ProPublica found that at least four have received the payout.

So-called nuisance easements are fairly common in other industries, ProPublica notes, but not so with fracking. It’s unusual to see a fracking company even acknowledge that any of these adverse effects are possible — the usual strategy is to deny the negative effects of fracking, particularly when it comes to health and pollution. The downside of paying off residents, of course, is that the company is forced to acknowledge that those downsides are possible. But the upside — preventing more lawsuits like the one seen in Texas — could end up saving them millions.

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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