While everyone notices the twenty-four hour pace of the industry, the glowing night sky is, to some, not a harbinger of doom but a promise of prosperity. I spoke with Stan and Luke (not their real names), two pastors who had leased the subsurface mineral rights to their church’s land. One of them told me, “this is the time that God is going to shine on this part of the country.” Stan and Luke saw the 24/7 pace of the industry as one inspiring a flurry of local entrepreneurial activity in an economically depressed community. From wellsite deliveries of groceries to laundry service for out-of-town “gas guys”—who, rumor has it, like everything starched, even their jeans—these pastors saw the Marcellus as a promise of untold potential for economic growth for landowners and for all those “who want to work, and don’t want a hand out.” For the industrious, they believe the Marcellus is a chance to “make hay while the sun shines.” They explained to me that this metaphor comes from the agricultural experience of people in the region; farmers, they say, know that sometimes you have to work overtime to seize a fleeting opportunity. In this expression “make hay while the sun shines,” God’s time, 24/7, and agricultural time, appear to converge.

But not all farmers define agricultural time in this way. Ben and Kate (not their real names) who raise beef cattle, met me at the West Market Café on Wellsboro’s Main Street, just south of the Green, to talk with me about their experience with the Marcellus shale. The history of Ben’s family’s land reflects rural, generational time; the family has accumulated its properties over years of purchasing neighbors’ parcels of land as they retired or moved on. Ben shares his interest in his family’s land with his parents, brother, sisters, and grandmother; many separate families can claim interest in this extended family’s land. Ben tells me:

“All of our property is leased. It was our parents’ property, and it’s always been leased. [The lease has] been renewed every five years; now it’s up in one month…but two months ago, the [company] exercised the utilization clause—that is, we were put into a production unit, which means they get to renew the lease indefinitely without renegotiating the terms of the lease agreement.”

In fact, only 3/10ths of one of Ben’s acres has been put into this production unit, which means he’ll only receive royalties on that 3/10 of an acre, but the company still reserves its right to put a pipeline on the rest of his property.

Many people I spoke with told me how the industry uses space as a way to assert its own timeline and extend leases. Ben suspects that when the industry designs their production units, they don’t draw their lines true north and south, in accordance with the gridwork of established property lines; they draw the lines at 10-degree angles away from north, so as to cut across—and secure indefinite leases to—more properties. Similarly, if a lease is about to expire, drilling companies can extend the lease indefinitely by drilling a single “pilot hole” on the property, capping it, and returning at a later date to drill horizontally and frack; at the Tioga County Development Corporation meeting, Jack Showers of East Resource confirmed that this was common practice. While it’s true that lease-extension information is included in the contracts landowners willingly signed, it’s difficult for property owners to feel forced to continue a lease when they are not receiving royalties on a capped well. It’s difficult for farmers like Ben and Kate to wait indefinitely for a pipeline that they’ve been assured is coming sometime soon.

For months, the company has been planning to put a pipeline through 5,000 feet of Ben and Kate’s pasture, but Ben isn’t sure when they will arrive to do the job:

“The industry has staked out our property three different times for the pipeline, changing it every time. But yet they still haven’t showed up to put it in. And I have to go around taking down their right-of-way posts—they put three posts in every fifteen feet—because I can’t run equipment through [my own property].”

Industry may operate 24/7, but that doesn’t mean that industry time is predictable time.

Ben and Kate feel as if the company could show up tomorrow to start uprooting trees, fences, pastureland: “Our life still has to go on, but any day they could show up with a bulldozer.” The lack of a shared sense of time between landowner and industry “fully affects the entire operation. We need to figure out how to move the cattle from one pasture to the next,” a process which entails not only building new fences, but planting and growing new feed for the animals. Six months’ notice, Ben said, would give him the lead time he needs to make new plans for his livestock. Regardless, he imagines it will be hard “ to watch them come with their big machines and go through fences we’ve taken forever to put together.”

As Ben, Kate, and I talked the tiny café filled with the aroma of the pan of lasagna that Jen, the café’s owner, baked slowly in the oven. When Ben and Kate headed back to the farm, I decided to stay to organize my notes and eat lasagna. Jen asked me whether I was in a hurry: the lasagna wasn’t quite done, and if I wasn’t too hungry, could I wait half an hour to eat lunch so the sauce could set? I was lucky. I had time. I’m a writer; I don’t have to work 24/7, so I sat and listened to the sounds of tap-dancers turning cartwheels in the adjoining dance studio, watched the lunch crowd meander into the café, deliberate between lasagna and nachos and sit down at one of the five tables inside, or the three on the porch.

Ben sells his meat to the West Market Café. So some pasture time, some generational time, bakes in an oven powered by geologic time and industry time, that operates according to West Market Café time. In a single delicious bite of lasagna these different senses of times can converge, but the thought of a drill-site accident—an accident that can happen in a moment, an accident that could happen so easily as a weary night shift approached their eleventh hour on duty–destroys this sense of convergence.

“If frackwater gets into the water supply on our property, we’re through,” Ben told me. There would be no way for Ben and Kate to water their livestock. He explains that the industry compensates landowners for water contamination within so many feet of a well, but Kate worries that “cracks can travel farther than that.” Fracturing the shale—itself already riddled with fractures and fissures—can be an unpredictable process. A single error could cause Ben and Kate the loss of their livelihood, the loss of the viability of the land that has belonged to Ben’s family for generations.

Yet despite this risk, Ben and Kate, like almost everyone I spoke with, were not completely opposed to natural gas drilling. Ben said, “I just wish it could go more slowly.” He imagines leases where landowners can have “veto power” over what happens on their land, but acknowledges that farmers willingly adjust to industry time because they are burdened with agricultural debt. They look to royalty checks as a way to “keep the farm and sell it, too.” Agricultural time is converted to industry time because “people don’t want to upset the gas drillers. They don’t want them to leave.” Mortgage payments are monthly. Time is money.

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