My father can never stop talking about the small town in Northwest Louisiana, where he is from, to the point that when my parents were searching for a name for me, they named me after his hometown, Vivian, in Caddo Parish. There is a Piggly Wiggly, a Walmart, a First and Second Baptist Church, VIP Marine (the once largest employer in the area), a liquor store, a hairdresser, a Barbeque Place and one motel. That motel is now booked for the next two years by oil and gas companies because of the following information reported by the New York Times.
The Haynesville Shale as it is called, and the primary operator in the area, Chesapeake, are bringing wealth to an area of the U.S. which has long remained forgotten (except by my father and his hometown buddies and people like Bill Clinton who come from not far away). This area is known more for poverty, horrible schools and a general left behind atmosphere since the last gas rush in the 1930s and 40s. But this time around, the local people are banding together, have started their own website and are advertising an 800 number on posters in their front yards to make sure their friends and neighbors do not get left behind as the profits roll in...
"...when we six months ago discovered this field called the Haynesville in northwestern Louisiana, subsequent drilling leads us to believe that this is the fourth largest gas field in the world and probably the largest gas field in the United States by a big number".
Although the oil and gas companies tend to retain at least 70% of the income, new and better leases are being signed and bonus money of sizes never seen before, are now being received by the citizens and landowners who retain their mineral rights who re banding together in "cooperatives". People have learned a lot and are doing a good job trying to make sure they don't get robbed blind by the oil and gas companies (as they did in the old days, just watch There Will Be Blood..."I drink your milkshake" and all that).
"Joining together as a group is not really novel. Since animals in the herd banded together for protection, the principle has worked and worked well. Now this age-old principle can work for you. If you own property in Caddo, Bossier, DeSoto, Red River Natchitoches, Bienville, Sabine or Webster Parishes or neighboring areas in Texas counties, Shelby, Harrison, Panola, or Marion that are involved in the Haynesville Shale Play - you need to read this!
Haynesville Shale Landowners is a group of landowners who have joined together to negotiate together for the development of their valuable minerals. This means the membership will have greater strength for a fair deal for each member of the group than each member would have standing alone."(link)
On many a family road trip to visit my grandparents in Vivian, we would stop in Mansfield, to visit a corner of the local cemetery, overgrown and dripping with Spanish moss, surrounded by old wooden shacks, in a place time had forgotten. Now Mansfield finds itself inundated by oil and gas workers, its motels full, and The New York Times visiting.
My father talks about the family land they never let go of, even when they lost their timber mills during the depression. My grandparents, having lived to the ripe old ages of 98 and 94, were the kind of people who saved and saved and saved and never spent. They remembered what the depression did, and they held onto their land and their mineral rights because, hey...you never know. You might have to support an extended family which has lost a lot. These are the kind of people who take care of their own, and my father drove six to seven hours almost every weekend for years to visit his parents so that they could stay in their own homes for as long as possible into their old age. The friendships are longlasting and loyal and I am not at all surprised that these people are helping one another maneuver through complicated lease deals and contracts with those who would seek to profit most from their good luck.
My grandfather died in 2006 and my grandmother just a few months ago and I am sad they did not live to see this gas field discovery hit the front pages of the Caddo Citizen, a paper in which the local doctor's birthday or the Redbud Festival was just about the most exciting thing in town. They would have found the whole thing funny. But it would not have changed their lifestyle one bit. My grandfather would have kept fishing on Caddo lake, and my grandmother would still listen to the weather reports, baking pies and worrying about the next tornado, or simply listening to church on the radio. My grandfather would still eat vegetables grown in his garden, and grow roses with which he would decorate the church where he volunteered.
The lesson of all this, enjoy the good times, but remember that hard times can also come. I am happy for the people in this corner of America who have lost their sons and daughters who fight for our country, who have suffered from poverty and who deserve better. Although we need to find cleaner ways to fuel our economy, perhaps there is some poetic justice in the fact that this rural forgotten area has hit the jackpot.