Local school districts might be in line for a larger payout from a ranch that Travis County owns in West Texas, where commissioners have approved more oil and gas exploration.
The 18,820-acre ranch in Throckmorton County already has some oil and gas pumping that has brought in more than $100,000 a year in royalties since 2008, but Fort Worth-based Cooper Oil & Gas is planning seismic exploration on a 140-acre area. County commissioners unanimously approved the work last week.
Cooper Oil & Gas has until March to do the seismic exploration, using machines to send shock waves into the earth and record images of underground formations based on how the waves reflect back.
If the company finds oil, it will seek a lease to extract the fossil fuels from the county-owned land. The firm would offer to pay $250 an acre each year plus one-eighth of the oil and gas revenue, Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols said. The commissioners could then negotiate with Cooper Oil & Gas or put it out for bid, Nuckols said.
The Throckmorton County acreage is known as school land. The state gave such plots to most Texas counties in the 19th century to raise money for local school systems. Travis County, one of the few counties that still owns such land, manages the property and revenue.
The county has collected about $204,000 over each of the last seven years from leasing the land to a ranching company, paying that revenue to school districts. For more than 50 years, the county has also been making money from oil and gas royalties on the property, with three different companies pumping on separate 320-acre tracts. Over the years, the county saved that money, totaling $3.4 million, and commissioners voted Tuesday to send most of the money to local school districts, including Austin, Pflugerville and Del Valle.
By state law, school districts must use the money from the oil revenue for debt payments or capital improvements. The ranching lease revenue has no such restrictions.
Now, Cooper Oil & Gas will pay $3,500 to search for oil or natural gas on 140 acres. That money would go to the county’s permanent school fund, the pot of oil and gas revenue it sends to school districts in proportion to their student population from Travis County.
The land in Throckmorton County is just outside the booming Barnett Shale formation.