Texas Farming & Oil Production: Like Water and Oil

Head a couple hours west of Austin and you’ll see oil rigs sprouted all over the flat West Texas landscape. For decades, oil has meant big money for the Texas economy, but it’s a mixed bag for many Texas farmers. Some of our friends out in the Midland area farm cotton, which is one of the state’s biggest crops, raking in $1 billion annually. Their farm is a generations-old family-run operation that they hope to keep in the family and pass on to their children, but oil is threatening that legacy.

As the biggest producer of cotton in the U.S., Texas has over 14 million acres of land planted with cotton crops.
As the biggest producer of cotton in the U.S., Texas has over 14 million acres of land planted with cotton crops.

Back in the 80s, things got tight on their farm, so they decided, like many other Texas farmers, to sell the mineral rights to their land. They received a hefty lump sum payment that not only kept the farm operating, but enabled them to invest in new state-of-the-art farming equipment and even put some money away. In Texas, selling mineral rights to companies like Caddo is common practice. Once sold, the mineral estate is severed from the surface estate, but the big catch is that the owner of the mineral estate has the right to use the surface estate, or the land, for exploration and drilling.

At first, this wasn’t a problem for the Millers. For a solid twenty years after purchasing the mineral rights, the oil company opted to do absolutely nothing. But then, in 2010, when the drilling production along the Permian Basin started peaking, the oil company suddenly reappeared with trucks, trailers, and drilling equipment. They initially decimated four acres of crop land setting up shop, then constructed roads right through the middle of the cotton field for their trucks to come and go. Now the Millers have to contend with a steady stream of work trucks rumbling over their land and inconsiderate workers who leave trash all over their property. Additionally, they worry about the drilling contaminating their groundwater which is used for both watering their crops and purified for drinking in their own home. Since they sold the rights, their hands are tied; the drilling company will keep drilling on their land for as long as oil is selling at a profit.

Pump jacks like this one are all over West Texas
Pump jacks like this one are all over West Texas

Their story is like that of so many other Texas farmers who had to sell their minerals to keep operating their farms when times were tough. It’s a Catch-22 – now they resent the very oil that saved them decades ago. While oil has done great things for our state, it’s sad to hear personal examples of how it’s threatening farmers across the state. Farming and ranching are at the heart of the Texas economy, and it’s important that we too have representation in the state legislature just like the oil and gas lobbyists. That’s why Two Small Farms is proud to be a member of Texas Farm Bureau, who works with agencies like the Texas Agriculture Council to protect this great state’s agriculture.