Imagine a return of the oil boom days, back when you could strike it rich by drilling for oil in your back yard. All across Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming – and even in Pennsylvania and California – overnight millionaires were created as gushers erupted “black gold.”
Those heydays were the stuff of legends – with hundreds of real life “Beverly Hillbillies” – ordinary people striking it rich and leaving poverty for opulence and luxury. In recent decades, we've seen the result of oil money as the Third World nomad kingdoms of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Qatar were transformed into wealthy political heavyweights building extravagant tourist destinations along the Persian Gulf. But it's happened before -- in the U.S.
In the late 1800s, the Osage tribe, which had ranged across Kansas and Missouri for centuries, was forced off of their ancestral lands and ordered to settle on a reservation in Oklahoma’s Indian Territory. At the time, nobody dreamed that the new Osage lands sat atop a vast reservoir of petroleum. As a result, at the height of what became known as the "Osage oil boom" the tribe earned millions annually – half a billion a year in today’s dollars. Under the Osage Allotment Act of 1906, oil profits were tribally owned with each of the 5,500 members of the tribe receiving royalties. In 1925, a family of four earned $52,800, comparable to approximately $600,000 in today’s economy – earning the Osages the title “the wealthiest people in the world.”
Today the unexpected is happening again. From rural North Dakota, Reuters news service reporter David Bailey reports, “The retired men shooting the breeze at Joyce’s Cafe in Stanley don’t look like oil barons, but appearances can be deceptive. The oil is so plentiful in Stanley,” that a well drilled under the town could mean homeowner will start receiving royalties.
Fred Hambright has seen a lot in his more than 60 years in the oil business, but nothing prepared him for the craze now sweeping the prairies of Kansas. Since 1951, the 83-year-old Kansan has made a living buying up leases for oil drillers. Six months ago, Hambright says he was purchasing leases for $15 to $20 per acre. Now those prices have skyrocketed. Hambright says the largest check he has written so far was for $900,000 – just for the right to drill.
“The Mississippi Lime formation in Kansas is the latest ground zero in a gold-rush-style oil boom sweeping the U.S.,” report Jake Whitman and Sharyn Alfonsi for ABC News. “New technology is turning lands once thought to be sucked dry of oil and gas into vast untapped reserves that could produce for more than 100 years.”
From Pennsylvania and North Dakota to Texas, the newly developed technologies of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are quickly turning the U.S. into an oil superpower. By some estimates, 2 trillion barrels of oil are waiting to be drilled — nearly twice the reserves in the Middle East and North Africa.
“Over the last three years the oil and gas industry has been churning out millionaires,” writes financial advisor Matt Insley. “No. I’m not talking about company CEOs or Saudi oil sheiks. Instead I’m referring
to everyday Americans that found themselves in the right place at the right time.”
“Three hundred thousand dollars. That’s how much a guy named ‘Coomer’ makes each month from an oil well he drilled. In his own back yard,” reports Hollie McKay for Fox News. “We’re talking real-life ‘Beverly Hillbillies.’”
Independent driller Jimmy Reliford says it doesn’t take large amounts of money or knowledge to win at the oil drilling game, either. “The United States is the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, and we need to be drilling here in America, and we need to be independent,” he said. “There’s enough in North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana that maybe one day we won’t need foreign oil.”
There’s been “a lot of attention on the jobs and businesses being created due to America’s shale energy revolution,” writes Mark J. Perry for the American Enterprise Institute, “but there hasn’t always been a lot of attention paid to the ‘staggering wealth’ that is being created from the billions of dollars in royalties being paid to the fortunate landowners in oil and gas-producing states. The shale revolution has undoubtedly created thousands of new millionaires in Texas, North Dakota and Pennsylvania since the shale revolution started five years ago, and that’s another reason that the local economies in dozens of America’s oil and gas patches are booming. Welcome to America’s millionaire-creating energy miracle.”
“Because of these new processes, Goldman Sachs predicts that in just five years, the U.S. could pass Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest oil producer,” report Whitman and Alfonsi. “Finally, a decades-old dream, talked about by every U.S. president since Richard Nixon, seems possible – energy independence.”
The boom is still creating as many as 2,000 millionaires a year in North Dakota, said Bruce Gjovig, founder of the Center for Innovation at the University of North Dakota. Many oil region residents receive $50,000 or $60,000 a month in oil royalties and some more than $100,000, said David Unkenholz, a senior trust officer at First International Bank & Trust in Watford City.
“Shale energy has been a game changer for economic growth,” Stephanie Catarino Wissman, executive director of the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania, told The DC Caller. “Hydraulic fracturing provided $62 billion in additional government revenue in 2012 and will provide more than $111 billion in 2020. 1.7 million jobs are currently supported by unconventional oil and natural gas activity, and that number grows to some 2.5 million jobs in 2015, 3 million jobs in 2020, and 3.5 million jobs in 2035.”
“You can’t tell the average Joe farmer from the average Joe millionaire,” Ward Heidbreder, Stanley city coordinator told Bailey. Average income in Mountrail County, the hub of the North Dakota oil production boom, has “roughly doubled in five years,” writes Bailey, “ranking it in the richest 100 U.S. counties – including New York City and Marin, California.”
“The average shale oil well costs anywhere from $5-10 million to drill, complete and put into production,” writes Insley. “Once put in to production, though, the estimated ultimate recovery for a productive well could pay out to the tune of $30-40 million.
“You get the idea,” writes Insley. “There’s a lot of money to be made here. An average land-leaser could expect to get anywhere from 10-25 percent of the payout on oil production. With a little back of the envelope math, it’s not out of the question to think that some of these local farmers and land-owners are cashing in 6-digit checks every quarter. If they have multiple wells on their property, the payout could grow even higher.”
“When it comes to shale oil, the first two places you’ll want to look are clear,” writes Insley, “the Eagle Ford formation in Texas and North Dakota’s booming Bakken formation.” For natural gas, Pennsylvania is a hot spot. Other fields are developing in Ohio and Arkansas.
The new found wealth of natural gas – tapped by such new technologies as hydraulic fracking is “set to create a ‘new world’ of energy,” writes Insley – and could mean an end to billions paid to foreign producers daily.
They’re not at all happy about that. Billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has warned shale oil and gas development poses a threat to the kingdom’s economy, the Wall Street Journal’s Summer Said reports. In an open letter to Saudi oil minister Ali al Naimi [in Arabic], Alwaleed also warns" “Our country is facing a threat."An anti-fracking film, “Promised Land,” starring Matt Damon recently bombed at the box office. Financed by the royal family of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, the documentary attempted to prove that fracking is dangerous, reported Lachlan Markay.
Environmental activists have achieved fracking bans in Vermont, Buffalo, N.Y., and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In Europe, the “green” movement has succeeded in prompting the French, Polish and Bulgarian governments to ban fracking. Similar efforts are vocal and growing in Ireland and Britain.
Is that a mistake?
“Everybody around the world has taken notice,” said Daniel Simmons, an energy scholar at the Institute for Energy Research, a Washington-based think tank and research organization. “They’re starting to wonder if they can get a part of the same energy revolution that we have here.”
The independent Beijing-based publication Caixin recently reported the Asian superpower is planning a “huge fracking industry” and that “the model for China’s anticipated success is the U.S. shale gas sector.”
Texas-based FTS International Inc., a leading fracking equipment company, has announced the signing of joint venture deals with partners in Brazil.
With the new technologies, America may no longer need Middle East oil, she said, adding, “With the right policies in place, America could meet 100 percent of its liquid fuel needs through safe, reliable North American sources by 2024.”
The International Energy Agency predicts America will overtake Saudi Arabia before 2020.
So, are we getting ready for a new crop of Jed Clampetts?
Could you be one of the overnight millionaires?
“Up from the ground come a’bubblin’ crude. Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea …”