BETHESDA - "We're fortunate in this part of the country to live where people have respect for each other. To be respectful and to communicate - that's the key to most relationships," says Larry Cain at his farm overlooking the rolling hills just outside of Bethesda.
Cain has developed many new relationships over the past three years as leader of the 800 member Smith Goshen Landowners Group representing approximately 40,000 acres in Belmont County. Lova and Jerry Ebbert, who nominated Cain for "Hey! That's my Neighbor," say that aside from working on his family dairy farm, activities in local farm and community groups and being a board member of Green Valley Cooperative, Cain "has worked almost day and night" as the driving force in education, development and negotiation of the final oil and gas lease with Rice Energy.
"I'm a firm believer in educating myself before making a decision of this magnitude," explains Cain. "This would affect generations down the line and shouldn't be taken lightly. We needed to take the time to do it right, and I was impressed and humbled by the process."
Larry Cain, right, and son, Devin, with part of the dairy herd on the
family farm. Both have an attachment to the land and to the business Larry’s father started in the 1950s.
Larry Cain’s push for education and research on the oil and gas industry benefited his neighbors and friends in the Smith Goshen Landowners Group. Here, a Belmont County map tracks land parcels and oil well activity.
This process began in 2010 when Cain noticed the shale play moving into the region and felt "uneasy and uneducated" about what it might mean for landowners. He heard about what happened in other places and talked to his friends and neighbors about inviting people from West Virginia and Pennsylvania to discuss their experiences and give them some insight on how the development would unfold. Cain and the group followed this up by inviting a geologist, an attorney, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio's Division of Mining - "anyone we could find" - to discuss legal, economic and environmental ramifications of the new industry.
A nine-member committee formed to coordinate member sign-ups, acreage, local well activity, research on leases and energy companies, pipeline construction, meetings and communications and updates to the growing organization. Cain points out that the landowners group does not have legal documents binding the members together, but is made up of friends and families who joined via word-of-mouth and referrals.
He is also quick to defer credit to the quality, dedication and efforts of his fellow committee members (Jerry and Lova Ebbert, Tony Gregor, Janice Bundy, Clyde Repick, Floyd Simpson, Neil Rubel and Bradley Otto), who, Cain says contributed "hours and hours" of recording, research and other activities that people didn't see and were meeting weekly until after the lease was in place.
Cain's concept of education has paid off. He said they were impressed by Rice Energy's progressive philosophy and CEO Toby Rice. Cain's research has confirmed that oil and gas will leave "a cleaner, smaller footprint" on the environment, and, out of the group's 40,000 acres, that Rice negotiated and signed en masse, less than one percent will be affected topographically.
"This [resource development] is hugely different than what we're used to in this area," he notes. "A lot of good came from this group. We're fortunate to be very much involved with Rice. We hope that they feel like partners with us. I'm sure we'll continue to be in contact as we move further into development and for any other issues that come up."
In the end, the Smith Goshen lease is considered by experts to be one of the most landowner and environmentally friendly in this area of the United States.
Since the oil and gas project is winding down, Cain is able to refocus on the family dairy farm, which his father, Glenn, began in the 1950s. With 75 head of dairy cows and 75 more of younger stock, the acreage is spread over two parcels. Cain grew up farming and purchased his own in the 1980s, but, he says, some of the land has been in the family for generations. Now his son Devin has returned to the farm on which he grew up and held his wedding.
"I have two other sons who aren't involved here, but are very fine boys," Cain says. "I'm proud of all of them. Devin just had a desire to follow me around and do what I liked to do."
Though he does some supplemental construction work with his father, Devin says he plans to stay in the family business because "there aren't many of us [farmers] left."
On farming, Cain adds, "Farmers genuinely enjoy their work. Most don't have real hobbies. Farming is a lifestyle, and you never really retire because life is good enough. You're not wanting or searching for something better."
Cain says his grandfather probably had the most influence on how he's lived his life. "When I was in my 20s, my grandfather said he would go into business with my father if he were my age. That had a big impact. I thought that if he felt that way, that was good enough for me."
His grandfather also impressed Cain with his honesty and "respect for life in general." But he adds that his father and many other people have made their impact.
"There have been numerous people from different places who have influenced me in one way or another," he reflects. "You take traits you admire and try to incorporate those into your own life. The neat thing about the group was the study of people. I really learned a lot."
Lova Ebbert writes that because of Cain's traits, his friends and neighbors placed their trust with him to negotiate on their behalf in a potentially life-changing situation. "The amazing thing about Larry Cain is he didn't accept one penny for his countless hours and efforts. According to him, his payment was the satisfaction of doing the right thing and helping his neighbors."
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