Three years ago, Vince and Jeanne Rhea found the house of their dreams in Shirley, Arkansas. They couldn’t believe the deal: 40 acres complete with a separate workshop that Jeanne could use as an art studio and two nearby lakes. It was also thousands of dollars cheaper than a property of that quality should have been. They booked a plane ticket from Raleigh, North Carolina that day to fly down and buy it.
When they got to Arkansas, they found out why it was so cheap.
The owner of the house had recently sold the mineral rights under the property to a natural gas company for use in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a drilling technique that is opening new areas across the country for energy exploration. The front page of the local newspaper that day had a story about problems in the water supply and was advising residents not to bathe, Jeanne recalled. “There was no way we were making an offer after that,” she said.
The Rheas ultimately decided to stay at home in North Carolina and retired in rural Lee County outside of Raleigh. What they didn’t realize is that the new home they bought sits above the Deep River Shale basin, an area potentially rich with deposits of natural gas that makes it the next likely location for fracking.
To make matters worse, because of two arcane laws known as split estates and forced pooling, they may not even have the right to say whether gas companies can drill on their property.