Back in the days when billionaires were scarce on the ground, one of the bona fide big wheels was oilman J. Paul Getty, who offered this advice on getting rich: “Work hard and strike oil.” That’s still good advice, even if you don’t strike oil yourself.
A group called the National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO) represents U.S. mineral rights holders and has just released its most recent estimate on the total amount of 2010 royalty payments to landowners, the most recent year for which the group has data. In all, some exploration and production companies like Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM), Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) and Range Resources Corp. (NYSE: RRC), among dozens of others, paid landowners $21 billion in natural gas royalty fees in 2010.
The typical royalty payment averages about 18.75% of the value of the produced gas and about half of all royalties went to three states: Texas ($6.7 billion), Wyoming ($2 billion) and Alaska $1.9 billion). In addition to the top three, other states making the NARO top 10 in 2010 were Lousiana ($1.75 billion), Oklahoma ($1.6 billion), New Mexico ($1.3 billion), Colorado ($1.2 billion), Arkansas ($668 million), Pennsylvania ($500 million) and Utah ($347 million).
Pennsylvania landowners could be on track for as much as $1.2 billion in 2012, according to the AP. While royalty payments will not have more than doubled everywhere in just two years, and the payments are tied to the wellhead price of the gas, landowners — and gas producers — will surely see an increase.
And the energy companies themselves? Well, a rule of thumb is that a production company must keep at least 75% of the revenue in order to make a well pay off. In addition to royalty payments, drillers also have to pay leasing rights and taxes. But in 2010, the math says they took in around $105 billion in natural gas revenues alone. Work hard and strike oil (or gas).