Fracking Amish Country

Fracking is slowly entering the Amish community at New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, located an hour north of Pittsburgh. The community lies above the Marcellus Shale, an underground rock formation stretching across a half-dozen states which contains vast supplies of natural gas.

Fracking, in a nutshell, works by drilling into rock formations, and then injecting large amounts of water mixed with chemicals and sand to fracture the rock and free trapped natural gas, petroleum and other resources.

Amish Fracking PA
Amish in the New Wilmington, PA community must face the fracking question

A recent article looks at the effects of fracking on the Amish and other New Wilmington-area residents.  For those with land, fracking has brought a lot of money.  Companies in the area are paying up to $3,500 per acre for mineral rights (I have heard numbers significantly exceeding that elsewhere).

Those who don’t own land benefit from the fracking industry as well. When I visited the Holmes County, Ohio Amish community this summer, I found the New Philadelphia/Dover area (two sizeable “twin” towns lying about 15 minutes east of the Holmes settlement) was experiencing a mini-boom.

Rental prices had increased significantly with an influx of out-of-staters into the area.  Energy company people could be found camped out at the county courthouse with laptops scouring for potential acquisitions.  An acquaintance in town spoke of the uptick in business for his renovation business, a welcome boost he attributed to the energy money.  New Philadelphia is a place whose best years were probably already behind it, at least before this boom happened.

What’s so bad about fracking?

Fracking is a newer battleground where public opinion is still being shaped.  It has gradually entered mass consciousness, with a Hollywood fracking film now playing on cinema screens. Some see fracking as a godsend, a way to unleash untapped resources and bring wealth to struggling communities.  For others the impact on quality of life and the environment are too great a price to pay.

By the way some describe it, I think I would hate the entire process of fracking.  With the heavy road traffic, bright lights at night, and constant noise, it seems like a hellish process specially designed to drive me crazy (I am a bit noise-sensitive, and don’t sleep terribly well to begin with).  However if I knew it were a matter of weeks or months, I think I could survive the process itself.

What complicates this discussion is the fact that one person’s use of personal property affects others in the vicinity.  My neighbor generally has the freedom to do what he would like with his property, but his choices could severely damage my quality of life as well as the value of my own property.  The neighbor with the junk heaps in the front yard is one example of this.  Some anti-fracking residents are trying to do the only thing they can, convince others to not sign away rights.  But if you live in a fracking area, it may be out of your hands.

Amish worries

Some Amish in New Wilmington have signed up for fracking, leasing their mineral rights to energy companies.  In some sense fracking seems specially designed to undermine the Amish way of life.  First there is the disturbance to rural peace.  In the article I linked to, an Amish woman named Lydia Mullet says this about the drilling on her next-door-neighbor’s property: “I’m depressed about it, but we feel helpless because it’s not on our land. And the lights shine through our windows at night. It’s not relaxing.”  Traffic can mean hundreds of trucks per day servicing a site. There are concerns over groundwater contamination.

Fracking Amish Life
Fracking is a potential threat to rural Amish life

A more potentially dangerous disturbance is that done by easy wealth.  An Amish man quoted in the story has this to say: “This friction is caused by greed. Scripture says that at the end of times, it will take over. I could have been engulfed in it, too: we all like to make money. But I was taught at home that money not worked for” — money from leasing, that is — “is no good.”  (As an aside, I wonder if people who take this stance have ever sold land for profit, beyond inflation and whatever value they added by improving it…hmm).

There is a lot of money to be made easily, but as this Amishman worries, at a potentially high price.  We don’t have to listen to Amish warnings to fear this type of thing. Cautionary tales abound of money gained too quickly, such as stories you often hear of lottery winners who five years later are broke, addicted, and without friends or family.

Grey area

Fracking is easy to paint as evil.  It seems dirty and unnatural, unlike good-PR-enjoying wind or solar. Its very name sounds disturbing.  Anytime there is a big company on one side and hapless citizens on the other (how many movies have leaned on that dynamic), it’s not hard to see which side is going to be portrayed as evil if something goes wrong.  This doesn’t relieve big companies of blame though, and if you read the story there have been cases of unscrupulous behavior on the part of land agents, for example.

Still, the “easy” money is attractive, especially if you’re in a struggling Rust Belt town.  If everyone else in your neighborhood is doing the same, the noise and traffic almost becomes a moot point–you’re going to deal with it anyway. And a windfall of money doesn’t automatically lead to depravity and sin (free will and personal responsibility enter the picture here). On the contrary a lot of good could be done.

If you owned land in a fracking zone, would you lease your mineral rights?  I’d like to say I wouldn’t, but if I’m being honest, under certain circumstances I’d probably be tempted.

Also, we seem to hear mostly about the bad sides of fracking.  Have you heard any positive stories?

There are motivated forces on both sides of this debate–money and big industry on one, concerned and vocal citizens on the other–and anytime there are loud voices it can be hard to get a good sense of what the reality actually is, at least not until the dust settles.

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    1. Lattice

      “Also, we seem to hear mostly about the bad sides of fracking. Have you heard any positive stories?”

      The only positive thing I’ve heard is the opportunity to make money.

      Thanks for this interesting information, Erik.

      In my mind, fracturing the rock underground would seem to have the effect of hastening the rate at which surface water and runoff would seep into the groundwater, thereby having too little time to become purified. I imagine earthquakes would have the same effect…and I wonder if blasting for construction does the same. Has there been any evidence to demonstrate that wells have become contaminated by nearby fracking?

      It would be difficult to have to put up with the fracking process going on at the neighbors farm, especially when only he capitalizes! Like when your neighbor allows a cell phone tower on his farm, gets $10,000 or so, and you only get to look at it!

      1. Everyone's-winning-but-me psychology

        “It would be difficult to have to put up with the fracking process going on at the neighbors farm, especially when only he capitalizes!”

        Lattice, exactly…that seems like it would be powerful psychology working in favor of the fracking side. Once a tipping point of sorts is reached, I think I’d feel like a sucker if neighbors all around were cashing in while I got to deal with the lights, traffic and noise. Or the ugly views as in your cell tower example.

      2. Matt from CT

        I believe most of the fracking takes place at a mile or more underground; the formations they’re working in are not the same we draw well water from.

        Most if not all the contamination of well water occurs from leaks at the drilling site and improper disposal of the waste materials. That stuff regulations & engineering should be able to address.

        As to who profits, it varies by state to state, but I believe usually the natural gas companies have to get everyone within a certain radius of the well to agree (or if they get a certain percentage say 60% of landowners to agree to force the agreement on the rest) to sell the gas. It’s not like coal which you know exactly from where it comes. Everyone within that radius shares in the production of the well. The person who owns the land for the drilling pad, access roads, pipelines, etc. gets rent for the surface land too.

      3. Kathryn

        fracking does contaminate water

        Here is one incident in PA:

        ….there are more instances of contamination, but the way the law works in the commonwealth companies have an easy time not being held responsible. … burden of proof, baseline water testing, very limited regulations, etc. once you get in it, it is rather maddening…

    2. A friend sent me a link to this story. The price the companies pay for mineral rights, is that a one-time payment? And for how long do they have these mineral rights?

      1. How much does fracking pay?

        Saloma I’m sure it gets more complicated than this, but you’re talking about a lease for a certain number of years. From what I have read in various sources, somewhere in the 2-10 year range seems common. However apparently due to how contracts are structured the original lease may automatically extend to much longer than the primary term if resources are found and produced, so it could even be decades.

        In addition to the inital payment (“signing bonus”) there are also potential royalties for resources extracted, in the 12-15% range.

        I’ve only skimmed it, but this seems pretty informative:

    3. barbara


      The argument you don’t discuss is that natural gas burns cleaner than coal, putting less carbon etc. into the atmosphere and thus adding less to the global change in the climate. But it would be more prudent still to leave the gas and the coal as well underground, locking up the carbon in the earth.

      People need to use less energy, period, and to get what they can from renewable resources, not unlocking carbon which the eons have sequestered in our geology. Mineral resources should be saved for manufacturing, not burned up.

      1. Kathryn


        Actually, when considering the amount of methane gas contained along with natural gas, and the fact that methane is many times more impactful on climate change, it is difficult to definitively say that natural gas burns cleaner.

        Here is a link to a letter written by professors from Cornell university going into more details:

    4. Tom in KY

      No, out of principal I would not sell. I have seen many reports about the harm fracking causes to the environment. No, I am not an environmentalist but I do believe in being responsible and not using the restroom where you eat. In simple terms be good stewards of the land and the land will provide everything we need.

      1. gary kaalberg

        fracking is safe

        I worked for Dowell a div. of dow chemical. we fracked wells all over Colorado. it is a very safe process. it involves pumping sand under pressure into a known oil formation. the most dangerous chemical we used was potassium chloride. that was mixed with water and then that mixture is pumped along with the sand. as the pressure builds small fractures form and the sand flows in and keeps the crack poruos so the freed oil can flow out. an average frac job takes about 4 hours. from site prep to finish cleanup is about 2 to 3 days tops. the depth of wells is usually 6 to 9 thousand feet deep. well below any water formation. the shallowest well I ever fracked was 3600 ft. even then bottom hole temp was 285degrees. water boils at 180 so you can see there is a lot of b.s. by the environazis concerning fracking. natural and methane gas can provide a cheap energy bridge until alt. fuels become viable. an honest observation shows that gasohol is a terrible idea. it requires more energy to produce than it gives off and is causing food shortages. please get the honest facts

    5. Dan

      Fracking is harmless, and is the reason why our natural gas is so cheap. Our unemployment rate, already sky high under Obama, would be even higher if it weren’t for fracking, which has been used successfully in the United States for over 50 years. We do not need to use less energy, that is a personal choice depending on your budget, there is an endless supply of energy all around us, it just gets more expensive if it becomes more scarce.

      With current technology, however, energy is becoming more abundant at very low prices. If I were Amish, I would lease my rights, they could provide funds to buy lots of farmland for the many children I would have.

      1. OldKat

        In addition ...

        if you live in the Eastern 1/3 of the nation there is about a 90% certainty that the electricity that is making its way through your computer this very moment came from a power plant that uses natural gas to create the steam to spin the turbines. The majority of the base load coal fired plants have been all but shut down due to environmental regulations. Those that have not been, probably will be soon. Same holds true for those generating with oil. Think we are about to build any new nukes anytime soon? I don’t.

        However, as we saw with the Hurricane Sandy situation, living without electricity is not a popular option for the vast majority of our citizenry. Yes, I understand that besides the Amish there are other people that prefer to live “off grid”. That is all well and good & if that is what they wish; I say God Bless ’em. Reality says they are distinct subset of the population, and a small one at that. Most of the US population not only wants electricity … they DEMAND it.

        As much as we might like to think that wind and solar power can produce the vast amount of electricity that it takes to meet that demand … they don’t and probably won’t. Unless some mega technological breakthrough happens & happens real soon, they are probably destined to remain a relatively small (albeit growing)source of the total electric supply for the foreseeable future. Face it; natural gas is THE OPTION under our current federal energy guidelines.

        That source doesn’t HAVE to be shale gas, but virtually 100% of all conventionally produced domestic natural gas and/or oil wells are “fracked” and have been for over 100 years. So what impact has all of this shale gas had on the supply picture? Put it this way; about 3 or 4 years ago natural gas was trading on the spot market in the $12.0 to $14.0 per dekatherm range. Today’s close? $3.44 per dth & that is with a VERY SIGNIFICANT increase in demand; even with the puny, sickly economy. Considering that fuel is by far and away the most significant variable in generating costs reckon what your electric bills would be if the fuel being burned to generate your electricity cost over three times what it does today?

        That said … NO; I really wouldn’t want to live anywhere near where it was happening (especially if I wasn’t getting a sizable cut of the action). This may be the ultimate “not in MY backyard” issue for some time to come.

        BTW: In the interest of full disclosure, I work in the natural gas industry and have for over 30 years, though not in part of it that is involved in “fracking”. From what I have seen of Hollywood movies and “documentaries” on the subject; they ARE accurate. About as accurate as Amish Mafia is to the reality of what life is like in an Amish community. So you let your common sense be your guide when viewing these things.

        Off the soapbox …

        1. Interesting info Oldkat, I know you have tracked this issue for a long time by virtue of your job. It seems not long ago I read that coal power was a majority or near-majority of power in the US, is that still the case or have regulations altered the shape of things so quickly?

          I feel with energy there is a segment that will not be happy until a perfectly clean, cheap, and abundant energy source is found. And I like that idea too, who doesn’t. This idealist view I think is helpful in terms of pushing efforts in that direction but sometimes people that hold that view have less patience for the realities, and I think the reality is that every major source of energy is going to have some drawback which we have to accept.

          So shale gas has the drawbacks associated with fracking but going by the numbers you mention it has also delivered a massive price benefit for all consumers.

          Perhaps improvements will be made in the extraction and cleanup process to make the most controversial side of it better. I am kind of glad that I don’t own any of this frackable land and therefore don’t have to make the decision.

          1. OldKat

            I'm not sure ...

            I’m not sure what the numbers look like today, because I haven’t worked in the commercial analytical role that I previously had in about 5&1/2 years. I do know that coal is still a significant source of boiler fuel for electric generation west of the Mississippi. Less so than it used to be east of it and in particular east of the Appalachians. I just don’t how much those numbers have changed.

            The reason for this change in the supply mix is gov’t clean air regulations. It was found that the burning of coal was a significant factor in the creation of acid rain. Remember acid rain? It was THE environmental issue 20 to 25 years ago. Heard much about it lately? No, you probably haven’t … because natural gas has taken the place of much of the coal being burned in the part of the country where acid rain was the most problematic; the northeast corridor. That is probably why the federal government is not getting too excited about the complaints about fracking. They probably view it as the lesser of two evils. Keep in mind that is not necessarily my view, but apparently it is with the EPA. An environmental trade off if you will.

            It is kind of ironic that one of the largest shale deposits in the US is located RIGHT in the middle of where it is being consumed; the Marcellus shale deposits. Gone are the days when most, actually the MAJORITY, of the east coast natural gas being burned in boilers at generating plants, schools, malls & people’s homes moved thousands of miles over interstate pipelines up from the Gulf Coast and the Rockies. Now it is literally being produced within a 100 miles or so from Philadelphia. From there is just a short hop to Baltimore, Washington, D. C., NYC, Boston, etc.

            I am not trying to inflame passions here, I have no stake in this and literally don’t care what happens. I will be honest and say that many people in the gas industry feel perfectly okay with the idea that some folks are strongly opposed to fracking; they just won’t say so publicly. If that opposition results in the production being curtailed, the market that suffers the loss of supply will be local to where it is being produced. It is no longer the interests of one region of the country pitted against another; it is local rural vs. local metropolitan. Should the local opposition somehow manage to get the shale gas production shut down from the Marcellus, the impact would be sudden and immediate upon the part of the country where nearly all of that gas in consumed … right in their own backyard. Then again, the local people that are adamantly opposed to the whole thing are free to sell the idea to their friends, family and neighbors that they really shouldn’t be using electricity / natural gas at all. We saw how panicked the people in New Jersey, New York , etc got when their power / gas was down from Sandy. We saw how first the utility companies, then the local and state governments and finally the federal government jumped through hoops to make them happy; so good luck with that one …

      2. Mineral rights=farms for the children?

        I can also see the enticement for Amish that Dan mentions…what if you could lease your rights and then turn around and buy 2 or more farms somewhere else where land is cheaper? Even though a lot of Amish have gotten out of farming it is still a revered and important occupation, especially in smaller and more conservative communities (like New Wilmington) and one that many parents envision their children doing. Financing that vision has gotten harder in some areas because of both English and Amish population growth. This may provide an answer for some families.

    6. Linda

      Does fracking cause earthquakes?

      1. Matt from CT

        The one case I know of in Ohio wasn’t from the fracking itself to get at gas…

        It’s was caused by pumping used fluid into another old, deep well to dispose of it — which is legal in some (all?) states with the approval of state regulators.

        This is a case where forcing the industry to recycle and reuse the chemicals would be a huge step in mitigating the issue.

    7. glen k wilson

      would i lease my land?

      ABSOLUTLY!!! first, i would use the roaylty money to pay off the farm mortage. 2nd, i would rent out the land not needed by the frackers, 3rd. i would look to the western states where good farm land is still available. i would buy as much as i could so my children could join me and mom. i would continue to buy land so all my kids could have enough land to start their own families. sign the lease,load the wagon cause we’re out of here.
      serousely, for the amish in this area,their old way of life is changed forever. the area will be built up with apartments, mini-malls,tavern,cheap motels and at least 2 big box stores. sorry to say, it’s time to move.

    8. Alice Mary

      I frankly loathe fracking!

      It’s not just “clean natural gas” that fracking miraculously brings forth…the water and CHEMICALS pumped under high pressure, far, far underground, common sense tells me, is a recipe for disaster somewhere down the line. I live in an area known for its gravel pits (mined for over 100 years, some within several hundred yards of my house). I’ve lived with the noise, dust, debris “simple” gravel mining brings. I’ve fought (along with neighbors & community groups) against more gravel pits going in (some went in, anyway, but the gravel co. had to offset the decline in neighboring houses’ property values by reimbursing those people). The company also had to come up with a “reclamation” plan—the mining is almost done, and a park/recreation area will be “built.” I’d have settled for the farmland that once was there.

      I have heard that areas undergoing fracking have a higher incidece of earth tremors (of course, the “frackers” contend it’s merely “incidental”.)

      Fracking is a blight on the communities involved (a little $$$ now won’t ever make up for the environmental losses, even loss of sleep–as others have commented–or loss of farmland as well as a “community”. Money truly ISN’T everything, and I’m old enough now to know what those words mean. Greed is a powerful force, and yes, many won’t have the self-control to overcome it. (Let’s hope the rest of us aren’t as myopic.)

      When I first heard the word, “fracking”, I thought it was yet another form of ANOTHER “F”-word—and I really don’t think I was very far off the mark on that one! (Both are a vulgarity.)

      Alice Mary

    9. Ed

      I’d have my cake and eat it too: frack the land then use some of the money to pay for a top of the line solar power or geothermal installation. 🙂

    10. How awful to hear this! Fracking amounts to plundering the countryside. It has to stop! This hysterical search for gas must stop. We need to simplify. Take a lesson from the Amish!

      1. Rhea the Amish are actually providing us a mixed lesson right now, since some have actually been leasing their mineral rights for fracking purposes. Beyond that Amish have long permitted small wells on their property (common sight in parts of Ohio). This is one of the many not so simple sides of the Amish…I can sympathize with the economic motivation of some of these families, just hopefully they have gotten a realistic picture of, and are okay with, the implications.

    11. GreyCatz

      This web site never ceases to surprise me; only a few hours ago, I read an article in Der Spiegel (a German magazine) about the geo-political implications of increased fracking in the USA.

      Citing an intelligence report published by the BND (the “German CIA”, if you like), it predicts a significant change in American political and military priorities, notably in the Middle East, by 2020. In addition to an estimated 3 million new jobs, this would potentially allow the US to divert hundreds of billions of dollars in defense spending elsewhere, and render the country practically independent of overseas oil and turn it into a net exporter of energy.

      The “losers” in this scenario include OPEC, obviously, but also China which today benefits from America’s military presence in the Gulf and elsewhere without the heavy costs.

      And now, thanks to this site – and OldKat – I’ve learned more about the specifics of fracking itself as well as the ground-level, human considerations entailed in this process.

      One can only hope that the Amish will be able to survive this “onslaught” of opportunity and temptation.

      1. Fracking in Europe?

        Interesting GreyCatz. Are you aware of fracking being done anywhere in Germany or Europe in general? I never have, at least not concerning Poland (the European country I’m most familiar with), which is fairly fossil fuel-rich in certain areas. Perhaps this technique is best suited to the geologic conditions in the States.

        If they can avoid the temptations as you say, I think the Amish could actually put the money to good use, provided they can tolerate the impact of the process itself.

        For some Amish the chance to use a windfall from fracking to purchase more farmland (in the home settlement or away from home) and remain in what is widely considered the “ideal” Amish occupation may be more appealing than the alternatives (working in a factory, or opening a small business that brings the “world” right up to your doorstep).

        I wouldn’t begrudge Amish, or anyone really, who takes such an opportunity…as long as they are informed and understand the implications of the decision.

        1. GreyCatz

          Fracking in Europe...

          There may indeed be untapped gas deposits in continental Europe, but I’ve never heard European companies or politicians mention it. And I’m sure all kinds of eco-friendly organizations would be loudly opposed to this technique.

          Germany relies on Russian gas and domestic nuclear power plants, both of which are contentious issues in German public debate. France is almost completely independent of oil, relying 70 per cent on nuclear power.

          Some gas exploration takes place, chiefly conducted by Norway, Britain and Denmark. All three countries have rigs in the North Sea and North Atlantic but gas deposits are drying up quickly.

          I believe Poland still has large deposits of primarily brown coal, which is used to generate electricity. Europeans, though, are wary of burning coal, whether for heating or electricity. I think it goes back to the smog-filled days in the industrial regions of Ruhr and Birmingham.

          One more thing about the article: It actually singles out Germany as a beneficiary of this policy change in the long term since oil prices are expected to drop significantly. This would decrease German dependency on Russian gas.

          As for the Amish, my main concern is rising property prices (farmland) which might disrupt the close-knit nature of Amish communities and force each generation to move farther and farther away in search of affordable land.

          But then again, the Amish have probably faced similar or bigger challenges before, e.g. from oil barons and railway tycoons.

    12. Katrina

      Fracking,in my opinion, has a major benefit: Americans will not be forced to give their money to our enemies for our energy costs. It is one (much overdue) step towards energy independence.

    13. Alice Mary

      Frack it all, why don't you?

      The above is from an article I just read via NPR, about fracking in North Dakota—the gas there is being burned off (flared) as they’re after OIL deposits there, not gas (obviously). There’s so much flaring, that it shows up on satellite images at night. the article is VERY interesting.(One comment indicates that Texas banned “flaring off” several decades ago.)

      I still personally think fracking is a dubious way to rape the land for profit(especially the longer it goes on—hundred years or more…it’s happening right below us, and according to this article, we have no choice in the matter, no matter the outcome).
      It doesn’t matter to me if it’s gone on for 10,000 years…human beings and our environment will “pay” big time, in the future—ours or our children’s/grandchildren’s…

      Alice Mary

    14. P

      Western PA

      I just returned from a trip to Western PA, near the Volant/New Wilmington area. My family (in-laws) mentioned that the poverty and *seemingly* easy money has people running over to sign gas-related land sales. One of my relatives mentioned that a lot of people have never seen $20,000 check and, all of a sudden, a smooth talking shmoe comes up and offers you one. These sellers have no idea how they’re being cheated, thinking they hit a jackpot with the check (the words of my relatives in western PA). Of course, not only are they being cheated financially, but the noise and environmental disruption that ensues has caused neighbors to wake up to the more sordid reality when their communities sell land for fracking. But that has not had enough momentum to stop the sales. Also, fracking is also affecting real estate. Some individuals want to sell their homes without selling the gas rights (who wants to buy that home? And how many people get duped into buying a home not realizing that they really have no control over the land? My relatives are not optimistic and foresee that this will all end with a ravaging of the region–the collapse of prices and a catastrophic environmental disaster in the next 25-30 years. I, unfortunately, tend to agree.

      On another note, I was a bit upset when my relatives seemed to hold a particular grudge toward the Amish for participating in the sale of land for fracking…as if the English weren’t major contributors to this.

      And, finally, I saw HUGE, HUGE estates being built in the Volant area. Locals say its Pittsburgh money-folks building their “country homes.” Somehow I don’t think this is good news either. Anyone know more about this??