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Fracking Property Owners Seek Lost Royalties Payments

Oct 21, 2013

North Dakota landowners who've leased their properties to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drillers have filed a series of class-action lawsuits seeking to get money back in lost royalties.

Under lease deals signed with fracking drillers, property owners are typically due to receive royalty payments for natural gas collected from the shale beds under their land. Instead of collecting the natural gas from these sites in North Dakota, fracking drillers are simply burning it into the air, according to a New York Times report.

Fracking drillers say that the infrastructure — a natural gas pipeline — is not in place in North Dakota for them to transport the natural gas they are collecting there. Instead, drillers are just going for oil they're collecting from the fracking process, which they can ship via pipeline, according to The New York Times.

The lawsuits against the fracking companies seek money for lost royalties. Under ordinary circumstances, the gas that drillers in North Dakota are burning into the air would be collected, processed and sold, and property owners would be due royalty checks based on the volume and value of the gas. Since natural gas isn't generating the profits that oil can, and the alleged cost of building the gas pipelines and other infrastructure is cutting even more deeply into revenue, the companies are choosing to burn it.

However, the New York Times notes that burning the gas into the air isn't just burning holes in the wallets of property owners; it's also putting those property owners and others at risk of environmental pollution. The output from those open gas fires — of which there are at least 1,500 currently — is the equivalent of two coal-fired power plants. The amount of carbon dioxide being emitted into the North Dakota air is likely creating a toxic environment and putting the public at numerous health risks.

In the past, we've reported on the many drawbacks to fracking drilling from an environmental and public health perspective. Not only can high-volume fracking drilling put groundwater and other public water supplies at risk of contamination, it can also pose hazards to the air surrounding wells. In previous studies, people living within a mile of an active fracking well face the most serious risk of suffering health side effects — including difficulty breathing, and eye and skin irritations — due to air polluted by fracking drilling.

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