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Mary Leshper

Mary Schaper
Posted May 12, 2014

Fracking: A Border Tale of Boom and Bust


Buffalo News: The sprawling hillside dairy farms of Neil Vitale and Jim Van Blarcom seemed to be, for 3½ decades, reflections of one another on opposite sides of the New York-Pennsylvania border.

But over the past four years, Vitale and Van Blarcom have come to live in different economic worlds.

Vitale’s Organic Farm, located in New York’s Steuben County and beset by what its owner calls high taxes and a regulation-happy state government, has shrunk in size by almost 30 percent. He’s had to sell off land to stay afloat – and it wouldn’t have happened, he said, if the state had let him cash in on the riches buried thousands of feet beneath his property. 

“I probably have millions of dollars of natural gas under my feet here,” Vitale said, “and I have to heat my house with wood.”

Those same riches – the natural gas reserves of the Marcellus Shale – also lay beneath Van Blarcom’s Sugar Branch farms 50 miles to the southeast in Columbia Crossroads, Pa. There, the Pennsylvania state government permits Van Blarcom to sell his mineral rights and enjoy a windfall that has allowed him to expand his farm fivefold since 2009.

“I feel blessed,” Van Blarcom said. “What are the odds of being alive and owning real estate now when this gas has been here 350 million years?”


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Mary Schaper is a Digital Communications Manager for the American Petroleum Institute. She previously worked on Capitol Hill for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as Digital Director and for Senator Lisa Murkowski. Before coming to D.C., she spearheaded digital strategy for Murkowski's successful Senate write-in campaign in 2010. Schaper enjoys traveling and taking in the local culture alongside her husband, their son and loyal springer spaniel.