What drilling royalties have meant for one Pa. farmer
Posted May 21, 2014
Columbia County, Pa. — Dairy farmer Jim Van Blarcom is expanding his operation, thanks to the steady lease payments from natural gas drilled beneath his property.
About a dozen years ago, Van Blarcom and 150 other landowners formed a coalition with 15,000 acres and signed their first gas lease, making this rural township one of the most drilled in Bradford County.
About seven years ago, the coalition renegotiated for more money and more protections.
Virtually all of the Van Blarcom family's 500 acres has been leased to a subsidiary of Canada-based Talisman Energy Inc. The family collects 15 percent royalties from nine wellheads scattered over its land.
The money has made it much easier to invest in the farm. Van Blarcom, 63, says Sugar Branch Farms has more than doubled its cattle head to 560 through a purchase this year. The family partners are renting a milking center 11 miles from their home base, and they plan to buy it.
Drilling in Pennsylvania
"We borrowed a little bit of money, but not nearly as much as we would have needed," Van Blarcom said.
The family also has bought heifers, built additions and purchased new equipment and machinery.
On a cold, rainy day in March, Van Blarcom's men were remodeling a 150-year-old red barn to hold more livestock.
Van Blarcom, a lifelong farmer, wore muddy rubber boots, tan denim coveralls and a white ball cap. In a barn built in 2009, brown, black and spotted cows munched on feed the family grows.
A son-in-law has long worked on the farm, and Van Blarcom's son returned home three years ago to join the business. This spring, a second son-in-law came on board.
"They want it to grow and prosper," Van Blarcom said. "And like a lot of businesses, if you aren't growing, you are going backwards."
The family's experience with the gas company, its construction crews and gas field workers has been mostly positive, Van Blarcom said.
"Any problems we've had, they've been willing to work with us to get them repaired or taken care of," he said.
When drilling rigs were under development, truck traffic on a narrow country road leading to his farm was horrendous.
"You had dump trucks, water trucks, equipment trucks," he said, "and we literally had a hundred trucks a day to go up this dirt road."
15 percent royalties
The drivers were courteous, he said, "but there were just too many."
Constructing a well can take two or three months. Fracking a well can last another month. Both phases require a lot of trucks and trailers.
But the traffic has eased considerably, Van Blarcom said. The gas industry has installed gathering lines to transport the gas and pipes to distribute water to drilling sites for fracking operations.
Some of his farming neighbors with gas leases have retired, and Van Blarcom has bought their land.
He acknowledged life is more comfortable with the lease payments.
"I don't let people make me feel guilty because of this money," he said.
Staff writer Andrew Barksdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3565.