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Monday, April 02, 2012

Fracking in Durham 

The Clarion Content has been tweeting for several days that we are sitting on an amazing fracking related story. We have waited on the sidelines as political figures from Governor Bev Perdue on down have told constituents what a boon fracking will be to North Carolina, and specifically our region of North Carolina, which sits on the geologically promising Deep River Basin.

Quite obviously the debate between the believers in the economic benefits of fracking and those who fear its massive environmental costs are unresolved. There is strong opinion and strong emotion on both sides.

What we believe most of you, dear readers, are unaware of, is that in some parts of Durham County permission to frack is already being granted, in advance of state legislative approval and in preparation for private profiteering. The Clarion Content and our sources have obtained deeds from the public records that indicate prominent builder D.R. Horton is securing rights to frack underneath some of its most recent Durham developments.1 (See below.)

We have redacted these deeds to protect the homeowners and their communities, but they should make you jump right out of your skin.

Public records indicate D.R. Horton homebuyers are using D.R. Horton's attorney at closing are receiving a "Special Warranty Deed" to their homes, rather than the far more common "General Warranty Deed." These "Special Warranty Deeds" grant D.R. Horton, a Delaware company and D.R. H. Energy, Inc.2, any and all rights, titles and interests to subsurface resources beneath the homebuyer's property.

Fracking is the process of drilling into shale deposits and using water and toxic chemicals to break up the subsurface rock and extract natural gas. The fracking process usually comes in from the side, it is not drilling straight down like an oil well, so D.R. Horton and D.R. H. Energy do not need to own the land they intend to frack, if they own the rights to the minerals buried deep beneath the land.

As you can see in the deeds below D.R. Horton and their pals D.R.H. Energy have reserved:
"Any and all oil rights, mineral rights, natural gas rights, rights to all other hydrocarbons, geothermal heat rights, water rights and all products derived from these, collectively 'Subsurface Resources'."

They have also secured:
"the perpetual right to drill, mine, explore and operate for and produce, store and remove any of the Subsurface Resources on or from the Property by any means whatsoever including without limitation the right to whipstock or directionally drill and mine, from lands other than the Property wells, tunnels and shafts into, through or across the subsurface of the Property...and to redrill, retunnel, equip, maintain, repair, deepen and operate any such wells or mines..." ---All italics added for emphasis.


We sought comment from numerous Durham politicos and finally got this back from Amy Blalock, a Senior Public Affairs Specialist in the Office of Public Affairs, of the City of Durham,
"Ultimately, the State’s General Assembly will make decisions about where North Carolina goes on this issue, and local government authority over the matter will be determined by the State. In the meantime, all property owners should carefully consider any offers to purchase mineral rights, thoroughly research the matter themselves, and if necessary, consult an attorney with expertise in real estate and mineral rights law."

Doesn't exactly sound like city government has your back on this one, Durham.

D.R. Horton spokesman did not return calls requesting comment.

Considering fracking's potential list of harms include everything from ground water and well water pollution to increased seismic activity (yep, earthquakes) in previously seismically inactive areas, homebuyers ought to look long and hard at their deeds before signing anything.

See full size document here.

See full size document here.

See full size document here.

See full size document here.

1The Register of Deeds Public Records Search reveals five Durham developments where D.R.H. Energy has secured similar rights. We have also seen similar deeds for properties in Granville, Franklin and Wake Counties.

2Think the similarities in the two companies' names might be more than coincidental?

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Correction: the initial version of this story indicated Durham City Councilman Mike Woodard had come out in favor of fracking. The councilman is the City Council’s liaison to the Environmental Affairs Board but has not yet taken a public position on fracking.
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