Appalachian Basin

Natural Gas Development Provides Much Needed Relief To Cemeteries

A recent Dispatch article “Graveyards latest target in quest for gas” seems to have gained some traction in the past couple of days.  Not only has it been covered in the Dispatch, the New York Times wrote their own piece detailing development under cemeteries in Texas.

There is an old adage in in the news business – if its not new, it’s not news. And this type of development is certainly not new. So while it may make for an intriguing headline and some sensationalist claims, the fact of the matter is that development under or near cemeteries has been happening for a number of years here in Ohio.

In fact I can think of a couple of wells within a few hundred yards of the cemetery where my both of my grandfathers and grandmother are buried.

The most recent well developed just a few hundred yards from my cemetery was developed when I was 14 years old.  I remember it quite well since we used to ride bikes in the woods right by the rig.  Today, the walking trail from the cemetery to the high school goes right past the pump jack.

Developing resources underneath cemeteries happens to be a great revenue source.  In 2004, Forest P. Reichert, President of Knollwood Cemetery Association in Mayfield Heights, Ohio testified before the Ohio Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee this very subject.

Mr. Reichert owned and maintained a 94 acre cemetery and home to the largest mausoleum in Ohio.  He saw development as a safe and responsible way to raise funds to maintain and operate the cemetery.

“We have an annual budget for operations that exceeds $350,000.00 which includes payroll, equipment maintenance, equipment purchases, etc.  An example of costs — a recent cost to carpet the Mausoleum was approximately $165,000.00 and a typical monthly heating bill for the Mausoleum can run $8,000.00+ per month in January or February.” – Forrest P. Reichert

Depending on where a cemetery similar to Mr. Reichert is located, it could stand to gain over $470,000 in just lease signing bonuses.  This is even before the cemetery would even be developed and receiving royalties.

In today’s economy, and even back in 2004, cemeteries are not even immune from an ailing economy.  When needing to provide funding for upkeep and maintenance there is still only one source of income for cemeteries.

“A modest to large cemetery has only one true source for income in perpetuity (burials).  We are faced with rising costs and strong competition just as any other business is today and we are scrambling to make ends meet every month.” – Forrest P. Reichert

It only makes economical sense to allow development underneath cemeteries but there are those who believe this would somehow negatively impact those residing in the graveyard. But we have to look at the facts instead of fear, something both papers missed the mark on in their coverage.

Taking a closer look at Times and Dispatch piece, most of the highlighted opposition to these operations comes not from anyone with moral objections, but rather those who oppose the development of oil and natural gas anywhere – graveyard or not.

“What’s being done to Fort Worth in general, whether it’s to the living or the dead, it’s immoral.”- Don Young (Drilling for Natural Gas Under Cemeteries Raises Concerns, 7/8/12)

As the founder of the Fort Worth Citizens Against Neighborhood Drilling Operations, Mr. Young could hardly be considered an objective party on the issue.

“I think it’s a dumb idea because I wouldn’t want anyone up there disturbing the dead, number one, and, number two, I don’t like the aspect of drilling”.- Marilee Pilkington (Graveyards latest target in quest for gas, 7/9/12)

The only development they would like to see is no development.  Unfortunately they are using fear instead of facts when making their argument.

Developing the Utica Shale happens at roughly 6,200 feet or deeper depending on where you reside in Ohio.  The depth of a grave is 6 feet.  There is no way a resident at a graveyard would be affected by shale development.  Sad to say, but it is more likely that a casket would be cracked by heavy machinery lowering a neighbor into their final resting place.

It should also be noted that, with the advent of horizontal development, developing resources under a graveyard can take place at more than a mile away from the cemetery.  There will be no pad on the property or in its view.

For graveyards it is a win-win. They are able to gain new revenue while maintaining and in most cases improving their grounds.  They can generate royalty revenues if they are developed and will never see, hear or feel the exploration of a shale well.  The residents are left undisturbed and knowing that when they are buried their cemetery will be able to provide a beautiful cemetery for their loved ones to come and visit.

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