Appalachian Basin

Family Farm Fantasy Comes True with Shale Gas

George Laird
Auburn Township
Susquehanna County Landowner

Back in 1966, as Dad was getting ready to retire from farming, I didn’t have enough money to buy our family farm from him. He needed the money that the sale of the farm would bring, and unfortunately didn’t have the luxury of time to wait for me to gather the funds. He ended up selling it to a guy from New Jersey, who only wanted the land for an investment.  I was able to rent our family farm from him, and begin my career as a dedicated farmer on the land I grew up on without my own claim to it.

Then in 1971, I had the opportunity to buy another 100 acres about 10 miles away. It wasn’t the family farm I had hoped to one day own, but it was still my own piece of land to provide a living for my family.  A place to teach them the value of hard work and a beautiful plot I hoped they could enjoy for generations. I added another 60 acres about 5 years later.

My intentions were to farm the land. I never dreamed there was such a thing as natural gas or oil in the future for our land and I couldn’t imagine I’d be sending articles to my brother in California on all that is occurring around Susquehanna County.

I was a dairy farmer until 1988, when I was forced to go into the construction industry because the farm wasn’t profitable and all of my cheaper labor left. Luckily I was able to keep the property without subdividing it, but could no longer afford to work my land. My dream of following in my fathers footsteps was cut short by the realities of a struggling economy. A situation especially true for those in the agriculture business, a diminishing population.

In 2007, I started seeing seismic testing in the area and hearing things like “There’s natural gas in those hills.” I was amazed they found such a thing, and even more so at the quantities they ended up finding!

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We were approached early, and having been told sign-on bonuses would never go higher, signed to lease our mineral rights at $47 per acre. Two years later, they were signing people up for $5,750 per acre! But, they didn’t hold a gun to our heads making us sign and I am pleased with the relationship we have developed with Chesapeake Energy.

The next thing we were told is that if we could get our whole farm in a production unit, we would make a lot of money. But what’s a lot of money??

I started dreaming of things like $3,000 a month for the whole 59 acres I originally signed. That would be A LOT of money to me: $36,000 a year! Well, we have all 150 acres of our land in production now, and it’s heaps more than that—more than I ever could have imagined! And across the county, my neighbors are sharing similar stories.

Since I started receiving royalty checks, I was able to take all of my family on their first vacation, something we never dreamed possible as we raised our children. To see them all together relaxing and enjoying each others company as adults made me so happy. It was so nice to be able to give them something we could never afford to do as they were growing up.

For me the greatest impact is having all three of my kids able to share in the royalties since January 1, 2011. My children now have an opportunity we never did, and one that I hope will be available to them for generations to come. I am so thankful that I was fortunate enough to find a job when I had to close the farm to be able to hold onto the land, and can now really provide for my family. It has really been a fantasy come true.

For years, my kids complained about their barn chores and our only being able to afford one school sport for each. So, when I gave them their first check, an amount more than the $36,000 I originally hoped for, I wrote each of them, “Here’s the start of your 401-k for all the years you worked in the barn.”

Who would have ever thunk it?

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