Found via The Big Picture.
It was late 2010 when a chipper agent for Kenoil, Inc., a drilling company in Eastern Ohio, drove to the nearby hamlet of Millersburg to visit Lloyd Miller. His car slithered down the hill overlooking the Millers's home and white farm buildings, past a set of pine green drums, pipes, and gauges—a shallow oil well that Kenoil had drilled on the Millers’s property many years ago—and stopped in front of the aluminum barn where the family, who are Amish dairy farmers, lodges its horses and buggy. The agent had an unexpected business proposition for Lloyd and his wife, Edna: Kenoil wanted to lease the right to drill on the Millers's land for shale gas. And for a lease of five years, he could offer them $10 an acre that same day.
The timing felt providential. The couple, who have several young children, were still paying off a 2006 loan they’d used to buy a small farm adjoining theirs. Gazing in the direction of his 158 acres, as he talked with me at his kitchen table in March, Miller said, “We thought, ‘Hey, that’s $1,500 we didn’t have.’” Still, he asked the agent about rumors of farmers who’d been given much larger signing bonuses in similar deals. He remembered the agent grinning dismissively as he said farms in the area were not leasing for more than what was offered. Miller, 46, considered the Kenoil well on the hill, and the years of good relations he had enjoyed with the company. “I just trusted him,” he said. The Millers signed the lease.
It was maybe two weeks, Miller figured, before they realized the enormity of what they’d done. First, their local paper, The Bargain Hunter, carried a front-page story advising farmers their land could be worth hundreds per acre to oil and gas companies. He compared notes with landowners nearby while on trips to the sale barns where farmers trade livestock, and when other farmers delivered hay for his cows. Miller is physically imposing—stout and broad-shouldered—but also painfully timid. When pressed on what his neighbors had earned, he gazed for a long time at Edna, who, with one of their daughters, was chalking the outline of a man’s pantleg onto a bolt of wool rolled out on the table. “My wife and I took turns kicking each other in the butt.” He paused for a long while. “Our ten dollars an acre compared to $1,000.”
Indeed, many area farms had leased for thousands. Even by a conservative calculation, the couple said they had missed out on a $79,000 signing bonus. (Kenoil declined to comment). Several times, they have felt the sting of their mistake, as during last year’s drought, when a decimated corn crop forced them to buy extra feed for the milking cows, costing thousands of dollars. The Millers have also tried to undo their misstep. Around the beginning of 2011, Lloyd presented his lease and his story to a lawyer, who said that by telling the Millers that $10 an acre represented the best deal available to them, the agent had committed fraud. He told Miller he could take Kenoil to court. “But I said, ‘Hey, that’s something we don’t do,’” Miller said. “He’s got to live with his conscience.”