“How much do weddings cost these days?” my husband wondered.
“Twenty-five grand,” I guessed.
“It shouldn’t have to cost more than $500,” he said.
I conveyed the news to my daughter.
“I’ll save you guys the trouble and elope,” she promised.
500 appears to be the magic number. For most folks, $500K in retirement savings is what they’d need to live out their lives in relative ease. Calcium supplements come in 500 mg servings because you get the most benefit if you consume 500 mgs at a time. Writing pundits believe that you only need 500 words to convey a message effectively—a word cap students encounter often when writing an essay. So is it any surprise that a certain Landman figured out that $500 is the magic number to get the residents of my subdivision to sign a lease, allowing the oil and gas exploration company he represents to drill for oil and minerals under our homes?
It was reminiscent of what German Artist Michael Sailstorfer did recently at a seaside town in England. He buried $16,000 worth of gold bullion in the sand on the beach. Finders-keepers, he said. There was no caveat. While it was billed as an art project, it was largely recognized as a way to draw scores of treasure hunters to this tiny seaside town and jump-start a flagging local economy.
In my mostly-middle class town, the Landman did pretty much the same thing—He offered “free” money and waited for the melee to begin. And it did. It got hardworking, educated men and women tripping over themselves to mail in their signed lease. Some were more intent of meeting the “deadline” to sign than in reading the four pages of fine print that accompanied the lease.
A neighbor called wondering if we had signed the lease. He sounded flustered and couldn’t fathom why anybody would sign a lease that would allow drilling and mining operations under one’s home, with little or no safeguards to protect property, soil and water. By all accounts, there have been six tank leaks and fires in the past two months in this area. In February, 2013, an oil well blew out in my town of Windsor, CO. Our county’s landscape looks like it suffers from a bad case of chicken pox—peppered with oil and gas drilling pads and wells. We go to bed to the low growl of wells operating half a mile away. Besides the noise, Benzene, a known carcinogen, is produced naturally by fracking, not to mention thermo-genic methane contamination to well water, ground disturbance and underground pipeline corrosions. In the neighboring city of Greeley, CO, sixty-seven wells operate 600 feet from an elementary school and a mere 350 feet from a playground, setting a record for the most number of wells in one location.
The Landman has the American Association of Professional Landman to represent his best interest. Who do we, the people, have?
We have a governor who is a sellout, a governor-candidate who is robustly pro-oil and gas, congressmen and senators who compromise in a New York Minute and cave instead of representing the best interests of the folks who elected them. Our elected officials are only motivated by personal agendas and re-election campaigns.
When I called our city engineer asking why the city would allow drilling and mining in a residential neighborhood, he said, “You want roads to drive on and gas to heat your homes, don’t you?”
Isn’t that why we pay taxes?
My neighbor wanted to canvas the square mile that the Landman had targeted for mining operations and gauge the interest for himself. Short of going door-to-door and asking, how does one figure out the yeas, nays and the undecided?
I sorely wanted to cite a study by Shaomin Li, a professor of International Business at Old Dominion University in Virginia. Li found that countries where people took the time to reverse into a parking spot had better economic prospects because it signaled a willingness to put a little effort into the task so it would payoff later—a sign of delayed gratification.
If I applied this logic to the folks in my neighborhood, would it be a predictor of who would sign the lease right away for a paltry $500 and those who would prefer to do their homework and educate themselves on what mining and fracking under their homes entails for themselves and their community? A quick drive through my neighborhood left me with the unsettling feeling that there would be more yeas than nays.
Last week, my neighbor organized a community informational meeting and asked an oil and gas lawyer to explain the nuances of signing such a lease. The take-away was that you can’t beat the Landman and the corporations he works for because the system is stacked against we the people, but we can negotiate safeguards if we are all patient. The hall had an 80-person capacity, but the overflow had people craning their necks from doorways and other entrances. Safe to say these folks back into their parking spaces.