Modern Day Beverly Hillbillies

Ever since I left the Hill, I am slow on the news uptake.  No TV on the desk and no requirement to scour newspapers every morning have left me ‘behind the news curve’ if you will. So if this is old news to most of you, forgive my being late to the dance. 

Today I read a New York Times Article about how small parishes in Louisiana are responding to the discovery of literally trillions of cubic feet of natural gas spanning underground from Louisiana to East Texas. 

According to this article, there is more natural gas in Louisiana’s Haynesville Shale than the United States could consume in over a decade.  Reading the article, it’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around what this means for the state of Louisiana. 

In typical, east coast, NYT style, the paper did a superb job of playing up the “country people” and how they are reacting to the fact that a small plot of land that had been in their family for years flipped in value over night, in some cases a $1,000 acre sky-rocketing to $30,000.  However, even one of the parish leaders in the town where most of the action is today said:

“These people are not college graduates,” said Reggie Roe, a parish official who has 987 acres and is looking at considerable enrichment himself. “Now they’re walking in with $2, 3 million. They don’t know what to do with it. What are these people going to do with all this money?”

Here are a few direct quotes from the article:

“I bought a brand-new Cadillac,” said Mike Smith, an appraiser, but not for much longer. “I’ve always wanted one, and I wrote them a check for it, and that was a good feeling. It’s definitely made me, I guess you would call it, financially independent. It’s just changed my whole life. You get over a million in one night, it’s hard to get used to.”

“I’m going to get me one of these $70,000-a-month personal checks, and it’s going to change my life,” said the sheriff, Rodney Arbuckle.

“I ain’t got but an acre-and-a-quarter,” said Floyd Turner, a truck driver. “But I’m hopeful. That’s all I can say.”

All I can say is, “The next thing you know old Jeb’s a millionaire.”

As you may know I am a southern girl. Having grown up only a few hours north of Louisiana in Memphis, Tennessee I can just image the folks who are going from rags to riches over night with this natural gas discovery.  While I do not think its fair for the paper, or anyone for that matter, to judge or insinuate that just because these folks are poor and/or have less education means that they won’t be responsible with their new found wealth; I do think that when people see dollar signs, their judgement gets cloudy.

The Shreveport Times recently ran an editorial warning local residents to be cautious.

“If somebody’s going to pay you a lot more than it sounds like makes sense, it probably doesn’t make sense,” said [Harold] Turner [of Red River Bank]. “They need to talk to people they’ve done business with a long time “» talk to their bankers, talk to their lawyers, talk to their CPAs before they do anything with people who just come in here and set up shop.”

Thats good advice for someone who’s personal GDP just rose 100% in 24 hours. 

Will some of these lucky jokers head straight to Tunica and blow half, if not all of it?  Maybe.  However, they may spring for a ticket to Vegas where they could do some real damage.  I hope thats not the case.

For those who really want to make a difference with that money and let this unexpected blessing have true meaning… I’ve got two words: Hurricane Katrina.

On August 29, 2005, the people of Louisiana suffered terribly from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.  Three years later; the clean-up and rebuilding efforts are still not complete.  Then all of the sudden, Louisiana discovers it’s sitting on “invisible gold” and has become much richer than anyone ever could have imagined. 

My hope, and I really hope someone says this in and around the towns where the gas is discovered, is that some of these new millionaires will invest some of that money in the Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts that are still ongoing in their own backyards.  

I certainly hope and pray that the citizens of that fine southern state realize they’ve been given a gift in this new found wealth and use it to assist those still suffering as they try to rebuild their lives. 

It would be an amazing testimony to the kindhearted goodness of “bible-belt” southerners everywhere if these folks would step up as leaders in their region and realize the unique opportunity they’ve been given, through the pay off from this gift of natural gas; and use a portion of their prize to help their fellow citizens.

Ok.  I am off my soapbox.  Now America and the world gets to sit back and watch how 250 trillion cubic feet of natural gas has a positive or negative impact on these modest country folk in the Deep South. 

I hope they don’t let us down.

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