Land Grab: Clean Energy Movement Can Leave Communities Divided

Natural gas exploration brings economic boost and environmental concerns.

ByABC News
April 20, 2010, 3:54 PM

April 22, 2010 — -- The push for clean energy came to Deborah Rogers' farm about a year ago. Rogers, who makes goat cheese near Fort Worth, Texas, was working when she noticed something strange. Two baby goats, seemingly curled up sleeping, wouldn't wake up. They were dead.

Around the same time, Rogers began to notice dozens of gas wells popping up around her property. Worried about the possibility of toxic emissions, Rogers launched a crusade for safer drilling and sought help from local officials who weren't exactly sympathetic.

"Everyone made it pretty clear to me," Rogers said. "They said, 'Deborah, you're ruining the party.'"

In speaking up about her concerns Rogers stirred a debate in Fort Worth, one of the cities most affected by natural gas drilling.

Similar debates are happening all over the country.

With the clean energy movement, both within the Obama administration and the oil and gas industry itself, kicking into high gear, landowners and land coalitions from Texas to Pennsylvania are leasing thousands of acres to corporations seeking to drill for natural gas. As fossil fuels go, natural gas is viewed as better for the environment, cost-efficient to extract, and in abundant supply.

The Fort Worth area sits atop the Barnett Shale, a geological formation that is rich in natural gas. It is part of a wide swath of America being scoured by geologists, land leasing operations and energy companies in a modern-day land rush, right out of "There Will Be Blood."

Other such natural gas fields, potentially worth billions of dollars, include the Haynesville Shale south of Shreveport, Louisiana, and the Marcellus Shale, which stretches from West Virginia up into the lower part of New York State.

In Broome County, New York, along the Pennsylvania border, there are hundreds of land coalitions set up to negotiate with "land men," an energy-industry term referring to leasing agents. When the agents knock at the door, ordinary people, sometimes financially downtrodden, find themselves staring at a potential windfall.