On Sunday, dozens of people including members of the Hare Krishna community got together in Marshall County to sign over their natural gas rights. They see it as a way to invest in their community.
More residents in the Northern Panhandle area are being approached by natural gas companies to drill on their properties because of rich Marcellus shale reserves in the Appalachian Basin.
More than 50 people gathered at the Limestone Fire Hall in MarshallCounty for a “lease signing party” to seal the deal with Ohio-based AB Resources.
The area includes around 8,000 acres in MarshallCounty, with about 2,000 acres in the Hare Krishna Community, New Vrindaban.
Ralph Seward is one of the landowners who agreed to the deal.
“The most awesome thing is there are two different types of leases a drill lease and a non-drill lease, but here since we negotiated as a block everybody gets the same amount of money and that is great. I have a non-drill lease and I’m pleased, my wife is pleased we get the money same amount as if they were drilling on our property,” said Seward.
For the past several years, the Hare Krishna community near Moundsville has been struggling to find ways to refurbish its treasures like the Palace of Gold and its worshipping temple. The Palace of Gold has some crumbling concrete and metal fixtures that need replaced. The temple needs a new roof and doors.
Krishna member Gabriel Fried said the money received from the lease agreement will help rebuild the Krishna community.
“We want very much to refurbish temple area, the housing but more than that we want to do it in an environmentally friendly way. We have plans on doing bulk purchases of solar hot water heaters; we were just discussing that here in the building and solar panels, wind generation.
"We are very excited about doing this and using this money to help stimulate the economy on an ecological level and to be able to make us self-sustaining as possible,” said Fried.
The lease agreement includes $2,500 an acre and 18 3/4 percent of the gas royalties. The money also will be used to improve the community’s organic garden. Terry Sheldon manages the Krishna’s small farm training center.
“Some of these monies will be used to promote apprentice programs and the presence of cows in a farm community means guaranteed fertility in a community and when you have fertile soil you have social security so the money will be used to create housing and infrastructure enhance our cow protection program,” said Sheldon.
Fried said the Krishna’s plan to plant hundreds of nut trees on their property. Future plans even include building a holistic health clinic with the royalties. The Krishna agreement also includes drilling 400-feet below where the community pulls its water from.
In the mid 1980’s, there were more than 600 Hare Krishna members living in the New Vrindaban community. Today, that number is about 200.
AB Resources Vice President, Mark Van Tyne said his company tailored the 19-page agreement to meet the needs of the Krishna’s and surrounding community.
“We agreed not run trucks when school buses run. Also, will be putting in a water and fluid line to bring frack water to locations instead by truck piping it in and water that is produced from well will be moved through those same lines to an area to avoid truck traffic,” said Van Tyne.
AB Resources said it has also agreed not to run its trucks during busy tourism holidays for the Krishna’s including Mother’s Day weekend, Labor Day and the Fourth of July. The agreement also includes more financial protections or “shut-in fees” for lease signers when oil and gas companies close a well.
For the past three years, the West Virginia Surface Owner's Rights Organization, headed by Charleston attorney David McMahon has introduced bills to protect property rights. The bill has failed to pass, but McMahon said he is getting ready to introduce a new, scaled down version to lawmakers.
“Before they file their permit and before they come on to the land we want to let us know they are coming on to the land and provide us with statutes and the Surface Damage Compensation Act and the Reclamation manual, so surface owners know what they are doing.”
“This year, we will take out the requirement that the companies sell us gas from the well, the companies were adamantly against that and they were also against increasing damages from market value to current use value and so we are probably going to take that out and give it one more try to get a surface bill passed,” said McMahon.
McMahon is also pushing for oil and gas companies to use more horizontal drilling techniques to reduce the number of vertical wells placed on people’s property.
As for the Hare Krishnas, they plan to start renovations in the New Vrindaban community this summer.