Life Is Good In Williston, ND — Especially If You Kept Your Mineral Rights

Land in Williston, that is, the stuff you build homes and grow crops on, was going for about $500 a acre a few years ago.

Even 18 months ago, when the locals were finally admitting this latest oil rush was a boom, land was a few grand an acre.

Today, there are 153 acres of land sitting idle because eight heirs can’t agree whether or not to accept the $200,000 an acre offered by the most recent developer.

But even that is chump change compared to what goes to the owner of the mineral rights within oil bearing land. The person who controls the mineral rights essentially owns everything beneath the topsoil.

Clarence Neer, 87, fought in the Philippines during World War II and came home to start his own auto body business. When he retired, his sons weren’t interested in farming and he sold his couple hundred acres of farmland to a neighbouring family, but kept the mineral rights.

Clarence has leased his rights to an oil company at $2,700 an acre for three years while he draws in 18% of the sweet Bakken crude they pull up every day. His monthly checks are big, his wife Clara’s are bigger, and he just got rid of their Toyota and bought a Cadillac.

This CTS is two years old with 27,000 miles. “It’s fast,” he says, smiling. “and life is good. But you should never buy a new car.”

A lifetime of moderation holding sway in the face of a whole lot of new money. Check out Clarence and Clara’s story, and more, in features starting tomorrow at BI (and find out what’s in that case he’s holding).

Clarence and his Caddy

Photo: Robert Johnson — Business Insider

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