Oil in California is nothing new — it’s the third highest oil-producing state in the U.S. (after Texas and North Dakota, which recently displaced Alaska for the No. 2 spot). The Monterey area has been drilled for years, profitably, though production has been steadily declining since its peak in the mid ’80s. However, as you’ve no doubt read in recent breathless media accounts, drilling technology has advanced. Two techniques have been combined: hydro-fracturing, whereby fluids (a mix of water, sand, and chemicals) are injected into drill holes to break open tight rock formations, allowing liquid fuels to seep out; and horizontal drilling, whereby drills can travel laterally from drill sites, sometimes miles, allowing a single drill site to cover vastly more area. This is the “fracking” you’ve heard so much about. It puts all kinds of previously inaccessible fossil fuels within reach, albeit expensively. (Oil seems stuck near $100 a barrel, though; with prices that high, all kinds of crazy schemes are economic.)
In the early spring of 2006, a nice man was in the area, promoting a chance to dream of better times for Bradford County and its farmers. There was promise of jobs for everyone and the farmer would generate money from signing a lease, and if a gas well was drilled on the farmer’s property he would become rich. Two years passed with little activity. By now, the older leases were about to expire, gas companies were beginning to drill, and excitement was in the air. Here, the majority of farmers signed early, receiving $5- $85/per acre. There was this belief that the person with the gas well would become the next “shaleionaires.” We later found out small acre properties started signing leases at $2,500/ per acre. By the spring of 2009, there was uneasiness among some of the farmers who had a gas well drilled on their property. The local newspaper was reporting contamination found in water wells, death occurring on a gas pad and the farmer was facing the fact that he could lose his farm due to a lawsuit based on the gas companies operation. For myself, I was thinking that our lucky neighbor was going to become the next Millionaire, because they had the gas well drilled on them. Soon my mind changed. Those farmers were facing penalties lodged against them, due to their land becoming industrial use instead of agricultural use.