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Gas leasing in Western Maryland spurs calls for reform

Landowners, Realtors seek more disclosure, protections

December 31, 2011|By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

But it's not that easy to get informed legal advice about gas leasing, says Dusty Horwitt of the Environmental Working Group. The Washington-based advocacy group recently published a report on leasing practices in five states, including Maryland, in which it contends that drilling companies routinely disclose to shareholders and potential investors a variety of risks involved with shale gas development, including leaks, spills, explosions and blowouts, but make no mention of them to landowners.

Horwitt said attorneys in Colorado, New York and Virginia told him that relatively few lawyers are experienced in advising landowners about energy leasing.

Del. Heather R. Mizeur, a Montgomery County Democrat, said she's prepared to introduce legislation to address the concerns of landowners and real estate agents. "There's no reason why Wall Street investors should have more information about the riskiness of this practice in order to protect their financial investment in the company," Mizeur said. "Why should that outweigh the impacts on landowners who are engaging in these leasing practices?"

Mizeur said the full text of the leases ought to available to the public, rather than the vague summaries often filed.

Paul Roberts, co-owner of a winery near Friendsville and a member of the CitizenShale group, said the issue goes beyond one of whether hydraulic fracturing or shale gas development could cause environmental harm.

Roberts, who did not lease the mineral rights under the vineyard, said that by leaving Garrett residents largely in the dark about what leases have been negotiated around them, the county and state are depriving residents of income and missing out on much-needed tax revenue to keep public services running.

"We're getting ready to close up to four schools over about a $1.5 million budget gap that could easily have been filled if this lease registry had been in place," he said.

"People would have been far better educated, able to get information about lease prices, and our county's residents would be much wealthier," he said in an email. "Instead, a bunch of tycoons in Texas and Oklahoma made all the money, and the state of Maryland taxed very little of it."

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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