Millionaire Landowners – In New York State?!

Crain’s New York Business (Nov 1):
The new gold rush

With heavy dollops of anti-drilling sentiment (so the reporter keeps his job), this article is worth a read because of the fountain of good information about economics for landowners in the Marcellus Shale. The theme that runs through it is the story of a truck driver with 120 acres outside of Binghamton, NY who stands to become a millionaire many times over if and when drilling starts to take place in New York. The truck driver, Jeff Decker, is not allowed to divulge the terms of his upcoming lease, but it’s thought to be in the neighborhood of $700,000–and that’s just the signing bonus for his 120 acres. If they drill on his property and he gets, oh say a 20% royalty, he’s easily into millions of dollars.

This nugget of useful detail from the article:

An 80-acre swath of the Marcellus can eventually produce $42 million worth of natural gas, says Dean Lowry, president of Fort Worth, Texas-based Llama Horizontal Drilling Technologies. With drilling leases now giving landowners 20% royalties on productive wells, Mr. Decker could become a millionaire several times over.

Drillers, whose cost to develop an 80-acre parcel is about $4 million, would also prosper. “Fifty percent of the gas could be extracted in the first three or four years,” Mr. Lowry says. “You get your investment back in the first year to 18 months. Then you get seven to nine times your money over the next 20 to 25 years.”

I would also caution about what’s coming in the way of taxes when drilling finally does start in New York. This rather sobering paragraph from the article:

In New York the Paterson administration, heeding the cries of landowners and local officials in economically depressed upstate communities, has issued draft regulations to allow it here. Landowners are keen to lease their property. Cash-strapped municipalities are eager to tax the extracted gas. Business groups say drilling would bring jobs and jolt local economies. The state would collect more income tax and, if it imposes one, a tax on gas production.

You can expect local municipalities to not be able to resist putting their hands into landowners’ pockets to relieve them of some of their new found money. And New York State will undoubtedly not be able to resist either. Politicians are like drug addicts who need an economic “fix”. Just a warning so you’re not surprised when it happens.

We also have the obligatory couple of paragraphs on “don’t you dare drill in the Catskill watershed” for fears of contaminating New York City’s water supply. The stated reason is this:

New York is one of five big cities not required by the federal government to filter its water, and revocation of that waiver would necessitate a filtration plant costing $10 billion to $20 billion.

It seems Crain’s New York Business is a bit behind the eight ball. Chesapeake Energy, the only leaseholder with land in the Catskill watershed, has already said they won’t drill there. Makes no difference, this particular political issue is just too juicy to not use–even if it’s no longer an issue.

We learn from this article that Hess is New York’s largest energy company, and that Chesapeake Energy and Fortuna Energy are the most active leasing companies (so far) in the Marcellus Shale in New York.

Overall, some good info in this article, but as always with mainstream media, be sure to read between the lines.