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Landowner says no to Texas company’s request to drill

Bill Dustin’s friends and neighbors gave a Texas company permission to drill for oil and gas on their lands.

So did his son, who lives next to Dustin’s home in Caroline County. Likewise, his sister signed a contract to lease her half of the 173-acre farm she and Dustin inherited from their mother.

But Dustin has no plans to sign over his part of the land. He’s loved the rolling hills and open farms of the area since he was a boy, and he’s not about to risk losing them.

Should Shore Exploration and Production Corp. find massive amounts of natural gas or oil, he fears the region would experience unprecedented growth.

“It’s just going to change the scope of a rural landscape I have loved all my life,” said Dustin, a 65-year-old grain farmer.

Dustin said he understands that his neighbors want to get a little something from their land. Their contracts with Shore provide them $15 an acre, each year for five years, and a percentage of the profits, should the company strike it big.

That’s why George Bowie leased his 473 acres in Westmoreland County. That and because “everybody else was signing up,” he said.

“People just hope they get a couple dollars out of it,” Bowie said.

Dustin said the lease looks like “free money” and people may assume nothing will become of the exploratory drilling—which is what happened when Shore leased land in the mid-1980s.

Dustin said he’s looking a little farther down the road and wants the view to stay the same.

He and his wife, Barbara, live in the eastern part of Caroline County, near its border with Essex and King and Queen counties. The land that Shore representatives seek is the farm he and his sister inherited. It’s about 10 miles west of his home, past Sparta.

Calling the area rural might be an understatement. From the house on the farm property, where Dustin’s sister, Carolyn Farmer, lives, one other home can be seen. The rest of the view, aside from red barns and walnut trees, is of farmland.

This time of year, soybean plants turn yellow in the fields, and all that’s left of the corn crop is the stubble of stalks. There’s no shoulder on the paved, unlined road leading to the farm.

Rows of corn were planted, from right beside the asphalt, all the way to the forest.

There aren’t any fast-food outlets, convenience stores or even gas stations in this neck of the woods. Instead, the scenery off Sparta Road includes chickens in the front yard, firewood stacked neatly next to houses and an occasional tire swing dangling from a tree branch.

If Shore were to find enough oil or natural gas in this area, it would have to build wells and storage tanks, as well as a pipeline to carry it out. Dustin has read about similar explorations in South Dakota, which turned a small area into a big boom town.

“They can’t build housing fast enough,” said Dustin, grimacing at the thought of the same taking place in Caroline. “That’s not my cup of tea.”

Shore officials have been “very nice,” but persistent, he said. He and his wife have had at least 25 visits from them in the last two years.

“Finally, my wife told them: ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’” Dustin said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425