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The Catskills Gas Rush

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When I looked up pictures of the drilling rigs on the Internet, Glassmire’s vague description became alarmingly concrete. The installations are significant-size industrial parks. Including access roads and parking areas, a drill pad takes up several acres, with three or more physical structures the size of shipping containers and an Erector Set–style tower standing perhaps 40 feet tall. Trees are removed, entire slopes are leveled. The facilities wheeze and off-gas, and frequently throw off huge flames. Next to them are large pits holding millions of gallons of contaminated water.

Once drilling is completed, which could take a few months, much of the physical infrastructure is removed and the ponds are drained, but the area doesn’t return to pasture—it is still a bustling industrial site. Jim Waters, executive director of the Catskill Forest Association, told me he believed these drill heads can be hidden unobtrusively in the woods—that we could actually specify wellhead placements. Glassmire seemed to say anything was possible in the Marcellus play. But he pointed out that each wellhead will be connected to the next by a pipeline, which creates its own racket. Enormous pistons, driven by nonstop diesel-fired compressors, are used to keep the gas moving downstream. The vibrations can be felt from 1,800 feet.

For Glassmire, that’s just the way life is. “I don’t know if there’s any way of avoiding it. You mostly can only control your own destiny.”

But make no mistake: Danny Glassmire loves the countryside. He has deep respect for the pure character of rural byways, like the one in the middle of his current prospect. “It’s like the most luscious ring of Saturn, Route 6 is,” he said. His last big job was delivering pizzas in Pittsburgh, where he landed after graduating from the English department at Ohio State in 2004. He thought he would finish his novel there, but life in the city was too distracting. “It’s like out of American Beauty, where the guy says, ‘Yeah, I remember that summer where all I did was flip hamburgers and get laid.’ It’s just one of those things.”

“I always do the There Will Be Blood impression,” said Glassmire. I’m like, ‘You have your milkshake, and over here, this is my milkshake, and my straw goes into your milkshake and sucks it up.’ ”

His father, a lawyer, got him into the prospecting game. It suits him better, but he’s still not done with his novel. The day before I arrived in Binghamton, Glassmire had put 300 miles on his car visiting his landowners, then left it parked outside a bar. He taxied home. “I’m getting a lot better at not drinking and driving—I’m not impeccable at it, though,” he said. Sometime in the middle of the night, he swigged a glass of water, which turned out to be where he had put his contacts to soak. That left him with just one lens to his name, so he spent the morning wandering around Binghamton with one eye closed, trying to find his car.

He represents Cabot Oil & Gas, an independent exploration firm from Houston, making $200 a day, plus expenses and $35 for food. With experience, he expects his rates will steadily increase, but he’ll never be paid a commission. That’s not typically the way of the industry. A good landman is motivated more by a certain lone competitive pursuit, man against map.

“It’s sort of like, in a way, territorial military theory. It’s like deterrence and movement,” he told me as he pointed out what he called the “gorgeous rainbow” on his map of Susquehanna County. More than half the parcels were colored in: yellow for Cabot, purple for Chesapeake Energy, blue for Turm Oil. By far, Cabot is the dominant force here, and Glassmire plays the map like a video game, concentrating on putting yellow on parcels that connect to other Cabot lands while holding the competition to quarantined pockets. “What I tell people, and it’s true, is that Cabot has 26 or 27 wells in already and Chesapeake has one. The only other one that’s impressive, but it’s not really impressive, is Turm Oil, which has eleven. That’s it. The yellow is Cabot. You can see this map speaks for itself. This prospect is Cabot’s.”

His specific responsibility is tax map 161 and tax map 142. Though he has been working these particular maps for only fourteen days, he has already signed four leases, for a total of 50 acres. He was proud of this accomplishment, though he acknowledged the prospect was selling itself in an area where employment is low and the typical home is a trailer or vinyl-clad prefab on about fifteen acres. Besides the signing bonus, Cabot is paying 16 percent royalties. Many residents eagerly sign without a lawyer; those who don’t are holding out for a better offer. He hasn’t found a single person who is anti-gas.


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