In my last post, I mentioned that I could have free gas and not have to deal with wood heat anymore. I've been asked, what did I mean by "free gas"? Here's what it is and how you can get it:
What it is: in this part of the country, there are many coal reserves below the mountains. In my area, the coal is too deep to mine profitably at this time (although who can tell what technology the future may bring?). Trapped within those geological layers is natural gas. Drilling for that gas is profitable, and it's been done for around 200 years. At first the wells were shallow, but now the driller companies have equipment that can drill over 5000 feet to hit gas. They sometimes also hit oil. Around 1900 many speculators bought the mineral rights under farmland. The practice continues to his day, and continues to cause problems for many landowners. Farmers didn't know what they were selling usually, and simply thought it was easy money. Little did they know that what they sold was far more valuable than the surface rights they retained.
How to get free gas:
Last winter a natural gas well was drilled on our land. The mineral rights were sold on that piece of property in the early 1900's and passed from owner to owner. A company quietly went about purchasing the rights from owners and heirs until they had a large continuous tract of mineral rights on our ridge. We're fortunate in one way--the 50 acres on which our home is situated still retains the mineral rights. But the 30 acre tract rights were purchased and there was nothing we could do to stop the well being drilled. We tried, to no avail.
But since we owned the surface, we were paid "surface disturbance" fees of $2500. We were also given the right to a tap on the well. While we won't collect royalties, we will get free gas if we run all the gas line and install the gas appliances in our home.
So to get your own free gas you can do one of two things: buy land with mineral rights and find a drilling company interested in drilling. In that case, you'd get free gas and royalties. You would need to be careful about the contract you signed, protect your water sources, and be knowledgeable about your rights as landowner and mineral owner. The other thing you can do is buy land without mineral rights and hope someone decides to drill.
For us, free gas comes with its own costs. The well is a half mile at least form our home. That's a lot of pipe. We'd need to replace all appliances. That's a lot of money. We'd need to run the gas lines in the house. That's time, money and know-how. Know-how we probably have, time and money are pretty scarce. We're set up for wood heat and our electric bill is fairly low. Would we actually save anything if we installed the gas? Probably, but it would have been a lot more valuable to us if we were 20 years younger. On the other hand, wood heat is hard work and we're not getting any younger.
You can read about the drilling here. It was messy, upsetting, and aggravating. It caused our big 4WD to wreck. It damaged my little green car because the road was ruined by the heavy trucks. It caused loss of sleep as the drilling got noisier and noisier--especially when they "fracced" the well with nitro. We had to pester to get our surface disturbance money, and still haven't been paid by Hard Rock Drilling for the right to cross our land with their gas line.
But it was fascinating too--the tall drilling tower, the men who worked 24/7 to get the well drilled, and who worked in sub-zero weather, the efficiency of their operation, and their seeming ignorance of the difficulty of drilling in this terrain in winter. I can't fault a man who is trying to make a living, and this is a hard way to do it. I can fault companies who have so little regard for the people whose lives they disturb and the conditions they expect their men to work under.
So that's how to get free gas. Buy land in the right area, get a drilling company interested in drilling a well, and tap on. Worth it? That's up to you to decide--I still haven't figured it out.