Shields does not own the oil and gas rights to his land. In fact, he’s not sure who owns them.
In Pennsylvania, if a seismic testing company has permission from the person or company who owns the oil and gas rights or a driller leasing those rights, they have a reasonable right to access the land, according to Paul Yagelski, a Pittsburgh-based oil and gas attorney at Rothman Gordon.
If the company does not have that permission, landowners don’t have to allow testing, he said. If they show up, it could mean they’re trespassing.
After being told about Shields’ story, Yagelski said it’s a “bad scenario” when a company just shows up on someone’s land without informing them, even if the company represents the owner of the oil and gas rights.
Even then, if the landowner doesn’t want testing, “the proper way to do it would be for the seismic testing company to send a letter saying, ‘If you don’t allow this [seismic testing] to happen, we are going to go to court to force it,’” Yagelski said.
Shields said he never received such a letter from Geokinetics or any of the companies working for them.
Yagelski suggests that people approached by a seismic testing company demand proof the company represents the owner of the oil and gas rights.
A history of problems
Geokinetics has a history of causing problems in Greene County townships.
“We frequently hear about them trespassing and being disrespectful,” said Veronica Coptis, a community organizer at the Center for Coalfield Justice, an environmental advocacy group in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Robert Keller, a supervisor in Morris Township, said Geokinetics was in his township three years ago.
“I dread the thought of them coming back,” Keller said.
Back in 2011, he said there were several instances of trespassing and significant damage to township roads (seismic testing companies use trucks to thump the ground, which sends vibrations into the subsurface that are used to map gas.)
“It was always a struggle to get what was owed to the township from [road] damage. We were only able to get some of that back,” Keller said.
Geokinetics filed a lawsuit in July against Center Township after the township passed an ordinance restricting its activities.
The ordinance requires companies like Geokinetics to file for a permit with the township, pay an application fee and post a bond for damage to township roads. It also requires that testing with charges be done at least 500 feet from buildings and water wells.
Geokinetics said the ordinance prevented it from performing testing in the area, according to court documents.
In affidavits, township officials said Geokinetics threatened landowners who wouldn’t sign permits, harassed them to enter their land and entered from other points when they were denied.
Equipment was air-dropped onto property and wires; debris and other equipment were left behind, causing damage to residents’ farm equipment. Complaints of trespassing were as recent as July.
“Past experience has shown that seismic testing has not been easy to deal with as a township,” Supervisor Seann McCollum said in an affidavit.
The lawsuit was settled in August in federal court in Pittsburgh. Geokinetics agreed to abide by the township’s ordinance, McCollum said in a phone interview.
As for Shields, he said he wants these companies to end its trespassing and bullying people.
“It’s got to stop,” he said.