The three men, willing to
walk away from a deal worth more than $4 million with the potential to
become much more than $40 million, exemplify the roughly 135 families
They share the ideals of a community that came together and protested
the closing of its post office on a bitter December morning. They
embrace the camaraderie of a community that answered the call when its
historic train station was threatened with demolition and raised funds
to protect it.
So, when gas company landmen approached residents in rural Noxen
Township, they demonstrated perhaps their greatest skill: their ability
"Ninety-five percent of the people that signed live here," Brody said.
"I mean, this is our home ... It's been our group's home for years and
generations in some cases. We took our time and I think we did it
A gas group is born
Residents gathered under the pavilion behind Noxen United Methodist
Church to formulate their plan of action. Across the street from his
Whistle Pig Pumpkin Patch, Field found himself responsible for
preserving the hopes of his family, friends and neighbors for a
lucrative gas lease. The Noxen Area Gas Group was born.
"I kind of stood up and said, 'Well, we ought to try this and we ought
to try that,' and everybody said, 'OK. Great. Go do that,'" the
47-year-old farmer said. "ā?¦ The responsibility was awesome."
Over a 2½-year span, those responsibilities included innumerable hours
of courthouse research, days studying the natural gas industry and
negotiating deals that never succeeded.
He even traveled to Houston to market the land that their farms,
orchards and businesses have rested on for generations.
"We didn't sign in the end, but for quite a long time we were dancing
with Chief," Field said. "The only reason we danced with Chief Oil and
Gas was because we did courthouse research that revealed they had a
couple thousand acres right contiguous to our block."
Field didn't realize exactly what he was getting himself into that day.
He never thought he would have to hunt down the estranged brother of a
neighboring family to gain his signature on their lease.
"It actually took a couple months to find the brother in California,"
Field said. "They actually tracked him down through his union."
Just as much, Traver and Brody, the two men whom Field called upon to
help organize the group, didn't think they would be studying geology or
helping to cover a several thousand dollar attorney bill.
Two days after the group signed the lease on July 10, Field, Traver and
Brody sat down with The Citizens' Voice for an exclusive interview about
the experience. It was a complete about-face for the tight-lipped trio
who refused to jeopardize any part of the deal before it was done.
Strength in numbers
Sitting at the wooden picnic table behind Field's house not far from the
barn where the group held some of its meetings, the three men smiled,
sharing stories of their community that was strong enough to stick
together and financially benefit because of it - a nice check and
thoughts of vacations probably didn't hurt as well.
Field, with large glasses and dirt beneath his fingernails from working
in his fields, drummed on the table as he spoke about working with the
"Getting up to speed on (natural gas) and keeping the people together
was always, I guess, our biggest concern," he said.
"But the people stayed together and that's what made it happen," Traver
"Some of our principles in the very beginning, when we first started
out, was to stick together as a family, as a community," Field
It's not difficult to imagine why the community would unite so well. The
tiny farming community has struggled to strengthen its economy ever
since Mosser Tanning Co. left town in 1961.
The tannery employed enough people to force the construction of a second
hotel and a row of houses nearby. It brought unprecedented life to
Noxen's economy that was once based on just more than a dozen farms and
a handful of small businesses.
"When the tannery left, everything left with it," Noxen resident Pearl
Race said. "This was a booming town at one time."
So, when a gas company comes and injects millions of dollars into a
community that has seen half a century pass by since its industrial
backbone collapsed, residents are more than excited.
"I think it's a wonderful thing," Race said. "It's got to help
financially; much more taxes, much more money. .. We're going to finish
paying our mortgage off."
Carrizo paid each lessor $500 per acre up front with an additional
$4,500 and 20 percent royalty if the company finds a decent supply of
On the day of the signing, Traver said, an elderly woman who was having
trouble getting by stepped up to the table, leased her roughly 1-acre
property and took her check. Traver's wife, Dawn, offered to take her to
The woman, Traver said, declined the offer.
"I want to keep it for a couple days just to look at it," she said.
The possibility of a check more than 10 times the amount they just
received, it seems, has most folks embracing the words of former Alaskan
Gov. Sarah Palin: "Drill, baby, drill."
And drill, they will
"We want production," Field said. "We're not just out there to get the
bonus money. The value in this arrangement is in the royalty."
The problem is companies aren't quite sure the gas is there. Carrizo
bought 2-D seismic data, senior landman Phillip Corey said, to get an
idea of what they'd find.
"Based on what we see, it looks OK," Corey said. "You're trying to
extrapolate a picture with three data points, though, when what you
really need is a hundred."
The uncertainty is why Carrizo didn't pay the full $5,000 per acre up
front. The company will drill two exploratory wells to test the area's
potential before cutting any more checks.
The Noxen group is split into southern and northern areas. Carrizo will
drill one well in each area. If gas production is strong in the north
but not the south, Carrizo will only have to pay northern landowners and
Wooden stakes with neon flags tied to the tops mark the location of the
northern well in Field's pumpkin patch. The Sordoni family's massive
Sterling Farms property will play host to the southern well.
The Sordoni property is one of a few properties directly abutting
Harveys Lake. A provision in the lease prevents Carrizo from drilling
within 500 feet of any structure or water source.
Still, some folks are concerned with what might unfold.
Noxen resident Viola Robbins, 72, has family in Dimock Township, the
poster-child community for environmental disasters caused by natural gas
drilling. Thousands of gallons of potentially carcinogenic drilling
fluid spilled just outside the town.
"They can't do nothing," Robbins said. "(The gas company) brought them
water for drinking and cooking."
Toxic water forced Robbins' great-niece Andrea Ely and her family to
move back in with her parents.
"I'm against it," Robbins said. "Maybe it's me. It might be a different
story if I had lots of land for them to drill on."
Still, many others have faith that Carrizo won't make the same mistakes
as Cabbot Oil and Gas did in Dimock Township.
"We all own farms down through here," Traver said. "When these people
say that they are worried about the water, they aren't as worried as
these guys, because that's how they make their living."