Assessing the impact of energy-related landowner coalitions on the sustainability of Pennsylvania farming communities
The rapid development of shale gas across Pennsylvania’s rural farm and forestland prompted landowners to quickly seek information to guide their leasing decisions in order to increase profits, improve quality of life, and protect the natural resources on their land and in the surrounding region. Many farm and forest landowners in affected areas turned to landowner coalitions as a tool for information sharing and collective action against powerful industrial interests, hoping to maintain their ability to control local land use decisions. Little research has been done to evaluate the outcomes attained by coalitions in Pennsylvania or explore how they have affected shale gas development in the region. This project aims to fill this gap by examining the impacts of landowner coalitions specifically for farmers and farming communities. The project will first describe the processes used by farm landowners to engage in these coalitions and identify their set objectives. Second, the project will measure the social, economic, and environmental effects coalitions have had on individual farms and the local community and landscape. Ultimately the project will assess the extent to which this type of collective action among farming landowners is a useful model for management of future land use changes to affect farming communities. Primary data will be collected in the form of semi-structured interviews and focus groups to compare outcomes for farmers who joined a coalition to those who leased individually. Results will be disseminated through presentations and publications made available through stakeholders, project collaborators, Penn State Extension, and peer-reviewed journals.
Currently, primary data collection is underway. Key informant interviews are near completion, and interviews with landowner coalition leadership will begin shortly. Lastly, focus groups will be conducted with farmers in landowner coalitions, and a select group of farmers who signed leases independently. The data will be systematically coded and analyzed, and finally used to produce outreach materials and publications.
This project has three main objectives, listed below with a description of progress made towards each thus far.
- Assess the impact of Marcellus Shale development landowner coalitions on the long-term sustainability of farmers and farming communities in Pennsylvania using relevant background information and primary data from landowner coalitions, their advisors, and experts in the northeast and southwest regions of Pennsylvania.
- Relevant background information, such as data Pennsylvania farmers’ planned spending of Marcellus Shale income, landowner coalition leases, and reports about landowner coalition from PA extension agents has been collected. Primary data collection is in progress, and key informant interviews are currently being conducted as preparations are made for interviews with landowner coalition leadership. Although final identification of which landowner coalitions will be included in the study is still underway, a detailed plan is in place for the whole primary data collection process. Information about this research and upcoming data collection will be shared at the upcoming PASA conference in State College PA in February.
- Evaluate the landowner coalition’s ability to serve as a model of collective action for farmers in the Northeastern United States to control land use decisions surrounding future issues on the rural landscape.
- Key informant interviews thus far have included questions on this topic, and preliminary findings suggest future uses of landowner coalitions for agricultural issues. In fact, some landowner coalitions have already held meetings to discuss how the group can be useful in the future. In addition, preliminary findings suggest that landowner coalitions created new networks and social connections between landowners that remain after the coalition disbanded. Social network theory literature focused on the effect of these connections on agriculture will be included as a theoretical framework for these preliminary results.
- Identify evidence-based recommendations for best practices and procedures for future landowner coalitions to be distributed to farmers, their advisors, and experts throughout the state and presented at both academic and key stakeholder meetings.
- Although key informant interviews have supplied preliminary findings for best practices and procedures for landowner coalitions, primary data collection from the coalitions will provide the data to produce the recommendations in this objective.
To date, significant steps have been made towards the research objectives and extensive plans are in place for the spring and summer semesters. The literature review has been outlined and is being used to inform primary data collection and interview protocols. Key informants have been identified and semi-structured interviews with key informants are near completion. Next, landowner coalitions chosen for the research project will be contacted, and either group or individual interviews will be set up with coalition leadership, depending on numbers. Next, focus groups will be conducted with members of each landowner coalition who are also farmers, and with a select number of farmers who signed natural gas leases as individuals, as opposed to as a member of a landowner coalition. Transcriptions of interviews and focus groups are being sent for transcription throughout the project so that preliminary data analysis can inform the next stages of data collection. Following primary data collection, the data will be systematically coded and analyzed. Although the project is slightly behind the original project timeline, the updated timeline still maintains target dates for the final project manuscript for the end of the Spring semester (April/May 2017). Development of outreach materials and the dissemination of findings will follow as originally planned.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
As data collection is ongoing, the project has not yet had any impacts. However, preliminary results suggest the potential for substantial contributions to sustainable agriculture. Key informants have shared stories and observations of the positive impact that landowner coalitions and the social networks that they have created have had on farmers in Pennsylvania. Preliminary data also suggests that there are indeed best practices for the success of landowner coalitions, and forthcoming outreach publications will outline those findings to be accessed by the agricultural community.
Associate Professor of Rural Sociology
The Pennsylvania State University
105-B Armsby Building
University Park, PA 16802-5600
Office Phone: 814-865-7321