In 1976, Mary Ellen McConnell, a “concrete city kid,” moved from Bethesda, Maryland, to the verdant hills and river valleys of Clearville, Pennsylvania. She fell in love with rural life and settled on a 124-acre farm on the Marcellus Shale, a vast geological formation that stretches from New York to West Virginia and blankets Pennsylvania.
But that tranquility proved to be short-lived: A few decades later, the area would be overrun with big fracking rigs from natural gas companies drawn to the rich stores of methane gas trapped in the 500 million-year-old sedimentary rock below.
The previous owners of McConnell’s home had signed a lease in perpetuity with Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of a major natural gas company. That meant that even though McConnell owned the farmhouse, she had no say in how the minerals below the surface were used. In return, she received an annual check of $248, or $2 per acre.
McConnell spent years trying to cancel the lease, petitioning the company directly and even seeking le... Read more