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Becker: Don't sign anything

If it sounds too good to be true, it very well could be. That's the warning from Supervisor John M. Becker (R,C,I -- Sullivan) last week. Becker said natural gas prospectors are approaching Sullivan residents about gas well drilling leases, and he urges property owners to proceed with caution.

"The gas companies are calling a lot of people in the town of Sullivan," said Becker, who also reported he was among those called. "They are trying to buy up gas rights. It's a lot more complicated than it sounds."

Becker said the leases require property owners to sign away the mineral rights to their properties, and he believes education is the key to getting a fair shake in any contractual arrangements for gas well drilling.

"People need to know what goes on when these outfits drill on their property," said Becker, who also serves as the chairman of the Madison County Board of Supervisors. "I am only aware of the potential pitfalls because of the problems in [the towns of] Lebanon and Brookfield."

Numerous homeowners' water wells were contaminated during the past year when drillers misplaced blasting devices in the area. In Lebanon, Supervisor James Goldstein has been trying to raise awareness of auxiliary impacts to communities, prevent lease problems and serve as advocate for town residents who have experienced problems with drillers and gas companies.

"I think a lot of people don't realize what they're signing," Becker said. "They are signing away the mineral rights to their property."

The deal may sound sweet in the beginning, Becker said, and especially tempting during tough economic times.

"Up front, it sounds like their rally getting a good deal, but they're not," Becker said. "There is more money to be made on the back end. Some of the towns in the southern end of the county are bargaining collectively to get more money for property owners."

Becker strongly urges property owners to consult an attorney or the Farm Bureau before signing any agreements for seismic testing or drilling on their land.

"Knowledge is the key to successful agreements," Becker said. "If people would like me to contact the Farm Bureau on their behalf or organize a seminar to help people better understand what they're looking at, I would be happy to work with the Farm Bureau to set something up."

Those interested in a seminar on gas well drilling rights and leases should call Becker's office at 687-9190.

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