PENNSYLVANIA farmer Jackie Root took five years to agree to sign a lease to allow exploration for shale gas on her land.
In doing so she managed to strike a deal that included many landowners and about 1540ha -- providing financial support for the next generation of farmers to stay on the land.
Ms Root said that through her research into land agreements she realised property owners could negotiate better terms by uniting and using more acreage as a bargaining chip.
In NSW, the Association of Mining Related Councils wants just that for their regional shires -- they want a fair share of the royalties from the extraction of coal-seam gas to benefit the entire community.
AMRC chairman Col Mitchell said the communities where CSG drilling was planned needed to benefit directly from the gas extraction, an issue that council would be taking to the state government.
The complication of course is that in the US the landowner generally owns the rights to the minerals -- in Australia it's the state government.
But there are lessons to be learnt.
Ms Root, who is also on the board of the National Association of Royalty Owners in the US, said that in her experience, as the shale-gas boom took off and the returns grew, the more contentious it became to negotiate agreements.
Similarly in Australia, despite the different systems, as the demand mounts for gas on the east coast, increasingly landowners and councils want to secure their cut of the action, no matter what the constitutional arrangements might be.
"I did a landowner deal in an area close to New York City and a lot of people that lived in New York had summer homes out there and all of a sudden these people were excited about it," she told The Australian from her home in the Jackson township in the Tioga county.
In her township, Ms Root estimates that about 85 to 90 per cent of property owners earn a royalty from gas wells.
While she receives about $US1500 ($1584) to $US2200 a month, she said some neighbours earned about five figures a month, which had enabled them to update farms and ensure the next generation stayed on the property.
With a farm spanning 162ha, with both cattle and horses, Ms Root has one well pad on her property with a series of shale-gas wells connected to it; she also collects royalties from two other pads.
All but 16ha of her land is included in production units.
She explains that each well pad can potentially drain just over 243ha.
When she first approached neighbouring farms around the year 2000 to talk about land agreements, she received some resistance given the way they had signed leases in the past.
But she managed to gain some support and soon a group of landowners would compare notes after being visited by a "landman" -- a person who conducts due diligence and research in county courthouses for information on property records and meets with the owners to develop a lease agreement with the gas producer.
"It is buyer beware . . . it is a very complicated process. How the companies group land together and how they create joint ventures to be able to finance it, that creates more complicated issues that we have to deal with.”
In Australia, the state owns anything of value under the surface, so as well as not receiving royalties, Australian landholders have to provide access, in return for some compensation, to mining and energy companies that want to explore on their land.
But the likes of AMRC's Mr Mitchell are agitating to build a consensus among vested interests, including farmers, to try to win a better deal with energy companies and the state government.
In the US, property owners generally have both "surface rights" and "mineral rights" but in some cases, like Australia, the mineral rights can be owned by other parties, creating complexities for land negotiations.
Mr Mitchell, who is also the former mayor and now councillor of the Wollondilly Shire, 100km southwest of Sydney, said there was nothing in place for the council or community to benefit from gas production.
"We are looking for some form of royalty on the output from the gas extraction," he said.
"We are not concerned about cutting into what the government charges the companies but there is no benefit to the councils from where it is being extracted from.”
Don Tydd, chief executive of the AMRC, said while NSW already had a "resources for regions" program, it only included areas where the highest royalty payments were being collected.
"The royalties-for-regions scheme proposal we have had in place for a couple of years would see all councils in NSW where there is mining occurring get some benefit from the royalty payments," he said.
“The government has been specific in cherry-picking who they think should get it."
The AMRC, which comprises 22 councils, wants the state government to amend the Local Government Act to enable local governments to charge rates on CSG operations and associated infrastructure.
The group wants rates on a production basis, not on the small land size or value that is generally involved.
Mr Tydd said the association had made representations to the Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner's office for its scheme to be extended beyond the eight councils the royalties program supports.
"Some councils that aren't getting royalties adjoin councils that are and the mining effect is affecting some of those councils," he said.
Read more at The Australian.