Exxon eyes on Belmont County land

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – The world’s largest publicly traded oil company has been quite busy in Ohio’s Utica Shale field since October, as Exxon Mobil has leased more than 26,000 acres for drilling in Belmont County.

In fact, the acreage – which is in the name of Exxon’s natural gas producing subsidiary, XTO Energy – came to Exxon in the form of 1,216 separate lease agreements on file in Belmont County Recorder Mary Katherine Nixon’s office. This means the average lease deal is for about 21.37 acres.

Unlike the December deal that saw Exxon acquire about 13,200 previously leased acres in Monroe County from Ohio-based Beck Energy Corp., the 26,000 acres in Belmont County are all brand new leases for acreage that had never been leased.

Many of the Belmont County property owners signing with Exxon/XTO – including the Union Local Board of Education and Martins Ferry Board of Education – agreed to receive lease payments of $4,950 per acre with 19 percent payments on production royalties. The contracts are for parcels of property as large as 484 acres and as small as 0.28 acres.

Though Exxon/XTO officials have declined to comment on how much they agreed to pay the landowners for the right to drill, a per acre payment of $4,950 multiplied by the 26,000 acres would equal a total lease payment of $128.7 million. Considering the average acreage per contract, multiplied by the $4,950 figure would equal an average payment of $105,815 to each landowner.

These lease payments do not include the potential for royalty payments the landowners would gain once Exxon/XTO would start drilling.

“We do have a leasehold in the Utica play and are in the process of evaluating this acreage to determine its value in our diverse, balanced portfolio of development opportunities,” said Jeff Neu, public and government affairs advisor for XTO. “We consider discussions on potential leasing activities with mineral owners to be confidential and, as a matter of policy, do not publicly discuss those negotiations.”

The leased acres are found in virtually every area of Belmont County, as the townships of Richland, Pultney, Colerain, Smith, Washington, Pease, Union, Somerset, Mead, Warren, Wheeling and Flushing contain acreage leased by Exxon/XTO.

Additionally, Phillips Exploration leased 1,334 acres in Belmont County since 2010. Because of a corporate takeover last year, those who signed with Phillips are now also part of the Exxon/XTO acreage.

“XTO is continuously evaluating and pursuing potentially attractive opportunities in all regions of the United States to optimize the corporation’s portfolio. Our operations support the country’s economic recovery, strengthen energy security and help meet environmental goals through responsible development of clean-burning natural gas,” Neu added.

Most of the Monroe County leases were originally signed from 2001 to 2006, with the oldest dating back to 1989. The majority feature acreage in the townships of Benton, Center, Jackson, Perry and Wayne.

The parcels range in size from as small as 0.24 acres to as large as 597 acres. Exxon/XTO now holds the 25.5-acre lease signed by the Switzerland of Ohio Local Board of Education on Sept. 1, 2006; the 36.2-acre lease signed by Monroe County commissioners on July 27, 2006; the 140-acre lease of the Monroe County Airport Authority signed on April 27, 2006; and the 49 acres of Monroe County Agricultural Society leases signed on July 27, 2006.