PHILADELPHIA – An author and onetime anti-drilling activist whose family owns a historic 153-acre farm has leased the land to a gas company, saying it’s better to work with the industry than to fight it.
Denise Dennis signed a lease with Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. last week that prohibits Cabot from disturbing the surface but allows the company to drill horizontally underneath the land. She said the deal will help preserve the Susquehanna County farm where her ancestors were among the first free blacks to settle in northeastern Pennsylvania after the Revolutionary War.
“I decided to stop demonizing the industry and to start negotiating with individuals,” Dennis told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I had to be realistic.”
The farm was settled by Dennis’ great-great-great-great grandfather, Prince Perkins, a black Revolutionary War veteran who moved his family from Connecticut in 1793. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has called it a “rare and highly significant African-American cultural landscape.”
The terms of the deal were not disclosed. The lease proceeds will benefit The Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust, which plans to stabilize a dilapidated 1859 farmhouse.
Cabot spokesman George Stark said the company was aware of the property’s history. Cabot’s chief executive, Dan O. Dinges, met with Dennis in 2011 to reassure her, and the company also took her on a helicopter tour of its nearby operations.
“The issue that grabbed the attention of our senior management was the history and heritage of her land,” Stark said.
The Dennis farm is about five miles from Dimock Township, where Cabot was blamed for polluting drinking-water wells. The company settled with the Dimock families a few months ago.
Dennis, who testified before Philadelphia City Council two years ago that shale gas drilling is “as dirty as coal mining,” said she still has her doubts about hydraulic fracturing, the controversial technique that drillers use to extract gas from deep rock formations like Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale. But she said that drilling was going to happen with or without the Dennis farm because most of the surrounding landowners had signed leases with Cabot.
“We were an island in a sea of leased land,” she said. “As I saw it, the drilling companies were now my neighbors, and it was better to get along with them than to be antagonistic.”