ELIZABETH - A group of local landowners is the largest known landowner coalition in the Marcellus and Utica Shale region, according to an industry publication.
The Wirt County Oil and Gas Group was recently recognized by the Marcellus Drilling News as the largest group of people who have joined together to market their land collectively for natural gas development.
The group has 658 individual members, including private citizens and 11 companies, said James Lydon, chairman of the group.
Photo by Brett Dunlap
James Lydon and Ronald Dolovach of the Wirt County Oil and Gas Group look over a map of Dolovach’s land on a hilltop overlooking some of the 160 acres Dolovach owns with his wife, Rosalie. The group has been marketing more than 241,000 acres to oil companies interested in drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica Shale region.
They closed their membership recruitment a few months ago.
"We spent time mapping out the acres we have to put on a digital map so companies could see what we had available," Lydon said.
The Wirt County Oil and Gas Group was formed in February 2012 and has brought together landowners, mineral rights holders and gas producers to formulate a lease option for those interested in having their property used in natural gas production. Acreage is in Wood, Ritchie, Calhoun, Roane, Jackson and Wirt counties.
The goal of the Wirt County Oil and Gas Group is to develop a lease that is fair to the royalty owner, surface owner and the producer. They have drawn up a proposed lease and had it reviewed by the membership.
"We joined our group in the hopes of unifying people into the large units oil companies want," said landowner Ronald Dolovach who is a member of the Wirt County Oil and Gas Group, serving on the lease committee. "Wirt County is our home and we would like the company that will produce the well to follow all governmental regulations in partnership with the surface landowner that owns the mineral rights also."
The group has more than 241,000 acres it is marketing with 92,000 of those being net acres. According to the Marcellus Drilling News, the Central New York Landowners Coalition is second with a total of 194,500 acres it is marketing.
The Wirt County Oil and Gas Group has attended two oil/gas trade shows in Houston and Pittsburgh.
"We have had a good bit of interest," Lydon said of 56 companies that have made inquiries into the group's land.
"Right now, we have it narrowed down to two companies," Lydon said. "We are working with their boards to try to work out a deal."
The group's membership will have a meeting on Oct. 5 where Lydon hopes to have a company to select at that time.
The names of the two companies are not being released at this time while the negotiations are ongoing.
"When you sign a lease like this, you are taking on a partner," Dolovach said. "It is best to get along with your partners.
"That is my aim."
He and many involved with the group want to make sure the integrity of the county and those who live there is maintained. There are people apart of the group who own land in Wirt County, but live elsewhere. Others live in the county, farm the land and raise livestock as part of their livelihood.
"We want to maintain the county and be able to live the life that we all came here to live," Dolovach said. "Energy is important to everyone.
"It makes our lives better and creates a lot of jobs. That is what we need right now."
The county is also in need of tax revenue this industry can bring to the area, said Rosalie Dolovach, Ronald's wife.
"This will help the tax base in this county," she said. "It is desparately needed as we don't have a lot of industries here at all anymore."
The couple live on land that has been in her family for generations with one of their children now raising their own family on the land.
The Dolovach's land includes around 160 acres which they have raised cattle on and now are farming hay.
"We would like to continue that generational trend long after we are gone," Ronald Dolovach said.
Lydon said it takes time to work through the negotiations with the companies with the number of people who have to give their approval on aspects of a deal.
"Decisions like this involve a huge amount of money, Lydon said. "It takes a lot to make those decisions."
The experience has given Lydon and others a better understanding of how these companies work and arrive at a decision.
By having joined together, the Wirt County Oil and Gas Group was able to attract bigger companies that would be able to lease land for more money, he said. Also, joining together has brought people with experience in the oil and gas business that could advise on what was good and reasonable for the landowners.
In the end, this will be a partnership between the group and the company.
"We want to work with a company that will be good for the whole community," Lydon said. "It will need to be a company that can make the whole project a success, for both the company and the community, and everyone working as a team."