Fracking Under a Historic Farm

In its ongoing campaign to win over opponents of hydraulic fracturing, the natural gas industry has succeeded in persuading the owner of a historic Pennsylvania farm to allow gas to be extracted from beneath her property.

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The Dennis Farm in 1939.Credit Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust

The owner, Denise Dennis, initially rejected an approach from Cabot Oil and Gas to lease part of her 153-acre farm in gas-rich Susquehanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania. But late last year she changed her mind and signed a lease that allows the company to drill horizontally below her land without sinking any wells within its boundaries.

Ms. Dennis is a direct descendant of Prince Perkins, a free black veteran of the Revolutionary War who came to Pennsylvania from Connecticut and bought the farm in 1793, beginning a continuous record of family ownership that is now in its eighth generation. Part of that legacy is a trove of historic and archaeological materials, including rare records from the Revolutionary and Civil wars as well as evidence that the farm was a stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves fleeing Southern states.

Its 19th-century farmhouse, of major cultural and historical importance, needs repairs that can now be financed with the money from the lease and from royalties that are expected to flow from deposits of gas within the Marcellus Shale, about a mile below the surface.

“I made the best decision I could for my property,” said Ms. Dennis, who has also set up a charitable land trust to restore the farm. “We couldn’t move forward without the money.” She spoke after making a presentation earlier this week about the farm’s history at the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

Ms. Dennis declined to disclose the terms of her agreement with Cabot.

Still, she estimated that lease and royalty payments will “take us a long” way to the $20 million to $25 million that she estimates will be needed to renovate the farm house and build an…

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