The natural gas price collapse over the past year has caused waves throughout the energy sector.
Producers throughout the country are moving as quickly as possible out of the natural gas business, instead favoring natural gas liquids and especially oil. In the process, they are transforming the industry's infrastructure and geography.
Royalty owners represent one group most directly affected by the trend.
Producers can move from natural gas-rich areas to oil-rich producing areas.
Service companies can service oil wells as easily as natural gas wells.
Manufacturing companies can make oil equipment instead of natural gas equipment.
But royalty owners cannot change out the rocks buried deep below the surface of their land.
Moore resident Ann Weathers and her family have been receiving royalty revenue for 45 years from a natural gas well on her family's land in Major County.
The well has changed operators several times over the past five decades, but the gas and the royalty checks have kept flowing.
Over the past year, however, the payout has become much less frequent.
Weathers and her four brothers each receive a check when their individual balances reach at least $100.
That used to happen almost monthly. Then it slipped to every two or three months.
In July, Weathers received a check for just more than $76, accounting for the first six months of the year.
The family's old well is not a particularly large producer, especially when its earnings are split among four siblings. Weathers and her brothers have never counted on the gas money as a large part of their income, but they are hopeful that prices will rebound and larger checks soon will return.
“This provided a cushion and went into the emergency fund or special occasion fund,” Weathers said. “It was never anything we counted on for retirement income or anything like that.”
Natural gas prices tumbled from $4.10 one year ago to a low of $1.90 in April. The price has since recovered somewhat, closing at $2.77 per thousand cubic feet on Thursday. While the price has improved, it still is considered well below the level needed to make drilling new wells profitable.
Weathers is hopeful the price will climb again soon. Either way, she said natural gas has been beneficial to her family and western Oklahoma.
“The best crop ever grown in Major County is those derricks,” Weathers said. “The energy industry saved Major County and western Oklahoma. We're grateful our parents had the benefit of the boom.”