Oil Boom Fueling Fortunes in Kansas

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Oil in Kansas: New Gold Rush

Karl Willey signed one of those leases on hundreds of acres of wheat fields, earning more than $2 million.

His is one of the first wells in Sumner County, Kan., and already it's bringing in big royalty checks. He showed off the latest for more than $20,000.

Willey was all smiles as he pointed out the meter, keeping track of the oil and gas adding up to big money for this retired 70-year-old.

Farmers Allen and Debbie Francis struggled for 20 years on their land in Anthony, Kan. But leases on the property they own here and just across the border in Oklahoma have minted them new millionaires.

Their modest farm shows few signs of their new wealth. They've used the lease money to purchase new farm equipment, an RV and a house in town for their daughter.

The couple says they and their neighbors who have also received big payments have been playing it safe with the new riches.

"As far as people buying big yachts and stuff like that I haven't heard of anybody really," Allen Francis said. Though the new tractor they purchased for $174,000 costs about the same as a new Ferrari.

"I'd rather have the tractor," Allen Francis said with a laugh.

Debbie Francis says once the horizontal wells are drilled on their properties, the land could produce as much as $500,000 in oil and gas each month. But the Francises' insist the money won't change them.

"I'd keep farming," Allen Francis said. "I wouldn't quit. That's all I know is farming."

On Main Street in Anthony, the small town is beginning to show signs of the boom. Hotel parking lots are packed each night with the muddy trucks of the drillers and rent for one-bedroom apartments has skyrocketed from a few hundred dollars to $1,500 per month.

Prairieland Partners, a John Deere tractor dealer, is the closest thing this town has to a luxury car lot.

General manager Pat Myers says in the last year, the dealership has sold eight to 10 more big tractors than in years past. Myers says most farmers are paying cash, for the massive machines, costing between $225,000 and $350,000 each.

"Many of the farmers I deal with everyday are customers that we've dealt with for 20 years. Some of them have wanted to have new tractors for a long time and haven't been able to afford it," Myers said. "It's nice to see these guys able to do this after they've struggled for so long."

Susan Croft's family has farmed its 3,000 acres in Harper County for more than 50 years. Shell Oil has just begun drilling the first of several wells on the family's land.

Croft visits the site often, eagerly waiting to hear if Shell has struck oil. The royalty checks will add to the millions her family has already earned.

Croft has used some of that money to help her church and the local hospital, and she has also traveled the world. She says that when she they tells people where she's from, she faces a bit of a dilemma.

"I'm the only one from Kansas, and when people find that out, they are kind of sympathetic toward me. As though they're sorry that I have to live here," Croft said.

"I'm tempted to tell them about the tornadoes and hot weather, so everyone isn't tempted to come to our state," she said with a laugh.

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