- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

FORT WORTH, Texas — Thanks to a massive discovery of natural gas beneath this city — and relatively new technology that has made extraction economically feasible — hundreds already are cashing royalty checks and scanning production figures, anticipating more.

Eventually, thousands are likely to cash in on the opportunity created by the Barnett shale field.

Fort Worth has made municipal acreage available for drilling, while enacting policies to make sure the environmental quality in the country’s fifth fastest-growing city is maintained.

Since last October, the city has leased out five tracts — under parks, airports and other city-owned property — and has received $2.7 million in lease bonuses, while retaining 25 percent of royalties.

Already there are several rigs continuously working the properties — often several hundred yards away, probing horizontally into the target area.

Doug Rademaker, director of Fort Worth’s engineering department, said last week that he expected substantial returns to the city.

While several large city-owned properties are being readied for extraction of the valuable gas, some drilling firms are moving into residential areas — going door to door to sign up homeowners to allow them to drill under their property.

“We call it ‘mailbox money,’” said Mr. Rademaker. “Folks just sit back and get their checks.”

Several hundred have already signed such leasing agreements, but many more are waiting.

“I wasn’t around to remember the California gold rush, of course,” said Carrie Watkins, 66, “but this seems just about as important, seeing as how we need to cut our dependence on foreign oil and gas. It’s getting to be like a feeding frenzy out here.”

Mrs. Watkins lives in northeast Fort Worth, close to Alliance Airport, which is said to be right on top of the richest part of the field. “I guess I ought to call somebody,” she said.

Alliance Airport and thousands of acres adjacent to it are owned by former presidential candidate Ross Perot’s development firms. Mr. Perot has spoken glowingly of the Barnett shale field’s potential. In a recent speech, he advised listeners to go check out their mineral rights: “You might be sitting on a gold mine,” he said.

The field is said to range through 16 surrounding counties. The drilling originally proliferated in Tarrant and Denton counties, but has recently been moving into Fort Worth proper.

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, which encompasses almost 18,000 acres, plans to offer to lease drilling rights within weeks.

Industry analysts say the field, reportedly the third-largest in the nation, will become the nation’s most important gas-producing field within three to five years. That could provide a bonanza to the region’s local governments.

The Fort Worth suburb of Richland Hills plans to use a $354,000 signing bonus from Four Sevens Oil Co. to repair streets and utility lines.

Mike Taliaferro, vice president of operations of Dale Operating Co. of Dallas, called the development “exciting.”

He said the field would have been far more developed by now but progress had been constrained a bit by the lack of drilling rigs. “There are only so many rigs available and the area is so big,” he said. “And the proved area — every day they push it out a little farther.”

Mr. Taliaferro said he thinks about 80 rigs were actually working now in the area.

“With gas prices as high as they are, every area around the country is real active and there just aren’t a lot of extra rigs available.”

Mr. Rademaker said natural-gas prices have risen from about $4 per thousand cubic feet to $7 just since last August. And that’s pushed drillers into Fort Worth’s urban landscape.

“I never thought I’d ever be in the energy business,” said John. R. Gray, 71, a retiree who owns a home in northeast Fort Worth. “But they came to me and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

A check for $550 bought the rights to explore beneath Mr. Gray’s property.

“They told me if they hit — and they believe they are sure to — I’ll get a nice monthly check for a long, long time,” he said. “Can’t beat that.”

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