My late husband’s family is from Oklahoma: His father came from Illinois, and his mother from Texas. They met in the early days of the state’s history. And while Vida Mae and Justus brought my husband and their other children to California just before the start of World War II, other members of the family remained in Oklahoma. Uncle Cecil was one of them.
As soon as Cecil was able, he began buying up mineral rights to land in Oklahoma. As the owner of the mineral rights on a parcel of land, Cecil had no rights to the parcel itself, only to any minerals that might be underground, including any gas or oil. By the time he passed away in 2005, he had amassed the mineral rights to 60 separate parcels.
However, he shared the ownership of some of those rights with others, so his interest in the mineral rights of a given parcel might only represent 10 percent of the total. And like many others in Oklahoma, those rights tend to be passed down to heirs, which often involves splitting the interest even further. Since Cecil and his wife had no children, his mineral rights were divided among his 13 nieces and nephews. As a result, there are parcels in which I now hold as little as a .000364 percent interest.
After my husband passed away, it fell to me to manage the mineral rights. Since I knew next to nothing about the business, I joined with most of the heirs, allowing a single cousin to negotiate with the landmen. As I learned about fracking and its cost to the environment, I became uncomfortable with profiting from the industry, as meager as those profits were. (Not all of the rights have been leased, and not all of the leases provide income.)
So I asked the cousin what would happen if I refused to lease my share of the mineral rights to the oil companies. He told me that the oil company would probably appeal to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which oversees the fossil fuel industry, to “force pool” the unsigned interests. That meant that I would not receive the signing bonus but would be paid royalties based upon my share of the mineral rights. The fossil fuel industry was going to drill, regardless.
Over the last few years I have been selling off my mineral rights rather than profiting from what appears to be a very rapacious industry. Until I read Blowout, I had no idea of just how rapacious the fossil fuel industry is, nor how deeply it corrupts the societies in which it thrives.
This content was originally published here.