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MIT Web Tools Help Small Landowners Navigate Gas Leasing Frenzy

Online technologies developed at MIT's Center for Future Civic Media in 2008, in the midst of the Marcellus fracking boom, are gaining users

By Lisa Song, SolveClimate News

May 1, 2011

Still, ExtrAct requires the Internet, and for the rural Pennsylvania landowners that Perry works with, that can be a problem. Many locals don't have computers so she has started recording their stories for them.

There are two types of ExtrAct users, explains Csikszentmihályi. The first type is Internet savvy — they might learn about ExtrAct on Facebook and immediately start posting. The second type relies on people like Perry and Meixsell to make house calls and guide them through the process.

For her part, Meixsell is used to this kind of work. She's acted for years as a default expert in Garfield County in the heart of Western Colorado gas country, and is constantly fielding calls from people who report well problems on their property.

Meixsell is mostly self-taught. After years of seeing friends suffer from drilling impacts, she wrote the book "Collateral Damage" to chronicle alleged health and environmental effects caused by the industry.

She knows that many stories will never be told. Some landowners are too frustrated to share their experiences, Meixsell explains. Others have family members who work in the industry.

"We've heard over and over [about people's] fear of reporting," says Csikszentmihályi. ExtrAct tries to accommodate them by allowing for anonymous usernames. Members can also contact each other through the site instead of revealing personal email addresses.

These features have made ExtrAct "a more palatable venue" for landowners, says Meixsell. "It has enabled me to get more people to report than would have been willing to do so initially."

Policy Impact Unclear

It's too early to tell if ExtrAct will have any impact on government policy. For now, the founders are focused on recruiting more landowners.

With time, the site could help provide evidence in court cases over fracking regulations, says attorney Todd O'Malley, one of several lawyers helping to spread the word about ExtrAct. O'Malley, whose speciality is workplace injury claims, says ExtrAct is "an outstanding database" that can help lawyers find witnesses for court cases.

Earlier this year, Meixsell and Perry visited Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis, both Democrats from Colorado, in Washington, D.C. DeGette and Polis are co-sponsors of the FRAC Act, which would require drilling companies to disclose the chemicals in fracking fluids. "[Both] were very interested and thought [ExtrAct] would be useful when talking with other policymakers," says Perry.

Csikszentmihályi says that ExtrAct's creators didn't set out to create an anti-fracking tool, but rather a way to help landowners new to gas exploration make smarter decisions about whether to let companies drill on their property.

"My home is gas heated. I'd be frozen or a hypocrite" to advocate for no drilling, he says. "But is it worth doing it in this way?" he asks, referring to the scientific unknowns about the method's effects on groundwater and air quality.

"There are hundreds of thousands of gas wells peppered across the landscape. No single well is as environmentally problematic as the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. But for the people who live next to that well, it's quite significant."

My property rights or yours?

If our national, state and local policy is to allow an industrial process to occur in a way that damages the property and health of citizens, then those citizens should be compensated by the industry—and maybe policy-makers—for their losses.  If you do not have drinkable water on your property you can't sell it.  For average people, our property is our life's investment, and if you lose the value of your property or your health, you lose everything. Gas industry activity is creating a new refugee class across our nation, only these refugees have little choice but to stay in their ruined homes. 

Much like eminent domain was used during WWII to build steel mills in the interest of national security, if we as a country choose to buy the gas lobby's claims that we need this "safe" "transition" fuel for our energy security, then do the right thing and allow those whose health and property value will be destroyed to move away and be compensated at market value for their loss. Then the gas companies can be free to destroy—I mean,develop—that land, and their supporters left behind can live with the results, or move out too if necessary, with their newfound riches.

Further ado about nothing

On the same subject,  from the MIT link which is described above as

Part two of ExtrAct, the , was released in early 2010. The simple website posts news articles onto a map of the United States, creating a database of stories by location.

It allows people to find out what's happening in other parts of the country, says Tara Meixsell, a western Colorado activist, and "to really understand they're not alone."

Yet the lead story

Is about

1.  California:  Not home to one single shale gas well

2.  It's about oil.  Not gas

3.  And what is this shocking story?  Forty, count 'em, four zero gallons of oil were spilled.  That's awful.  What an environmental catastrophe!  Right up there with the Exxon Valdez for sure.  Would I want that to happen in my neighborhood? Of course not.  But I wouldn't want to spill forty gallons of milk either and I'm sure I've done that over the years.

MIT should read their own stuff on shale gas instead of confusing molehills with catastrophe.

“Much has been said about natural gas as a bridge to a low-carbon future, with little underlying analysis to back up this contention.  The analysis in this study provides the confirmation — natural gas truly is a bridge to a low-carbon future,” said MITEI Director Ernest J. Moniz in introducing the report. 

I'm not saying that accidents don't and even will, happen.  But what we need more than anything is some perspective and some rationality and a little less gullibility and emotion mongering. 

Sullivan County Gas

I guess MIT missed this story from Sullivan County about gas 


Could all the hubbub about gas drilling in Sullivan County be much ado about nothing?

The geologist who first calculated the enormous amount of natural gas in the Marcellus shale — part of which sits beneath Sullivan — sure thinks so.

"It's not going to happen. Sullivan is completely off the table. No one has to get excited about contaminated New York City drinking water," says Terry Engelder, Penn State professor of geosciences in the university's Appalachian Basin Black Shales Group.


So not only is there nothing to fear about shale gas,  there is nothing to fear about it anyway.


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