December 8, 2009
WELLSBORO -- A WENY-TV News investigation shows that there could be a large number of natural gas leases in Pennsylvania that were filed illegally.
The legality of the leases is linked to the process taken by natural gas companies when the leases are signed.
When a landowner signs the lease, the landowner by law must appear before a notary, who is technically an appointed state official.
In a number of cases, landowners said they never appeared before a notary but the notary's seal still appeared on their documents.
Some of them said they never realized they had to because they weren't told that by gas company representatives when they signed the lease.
Others didn't even live in the State of Pennsylvania on the date that the notary's seal appeared on their lease.
One notary we spoke to, who requested anonymity because she could lose her license, said it's been common practice to cut corners to get gas leases done faster for the past 20 years.
"[I've done] at least 50, if not as many as 100," she said.
When asked if she knew it was illegal, she said, "Yes. It's absolutely common practice. No question about it."
Many of the leases she signed illegally were with East Resources, a drilling company based in Mansfield. The notary we spoke to said the representative from East brought her the leases despite knowing it was illegal for her to notarize the leases without the landowner present.
East's lawyer said the company was unaware of any allegations like this one but said the company would investigate.
He went on to say it is East's policy to follow all relevant laws and regulations dealing with gas leases.
The Pennsylvania Department of State regulates notaries in Pennsylvania. A spokesman for the department confirmed that notaries found to be certifying leases without seeing the landowner would be investigated and possibly stripped of their licenses.