By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009

The first time Chesapeake Energy tried to buy mineral rights from Diana Whitmore, a 74-year-old retired real estate broker in southern New York, it offered her $125 for every acre of land plus a 12 percent royalty on whatever natural gas it extracts.

Nearly two years later, she's still holding out. Along with hundreds of other landowners, she has joined a coalition that is negotiating with nine oil and gas companies. The latest offers in the area are running as high as $5,500 an acre with 20 percent royalties.

"It's what's really going to turn this whole place around," said her son Daniel Fitzsimmons, who has since helped form the Binghamton Conklin Gas Lease Coalition.

This corner of the state is at the forefront of an old-fashioned land rush that has implications far beyond Conklin, N.Y. Oil and gas companies are vying to stake out territory where they can tap natural gas trapped in shale rock. Just a few years ago, the industry didn't have the technology to unlock these reserves. But thanks to advances in horizontal drilling and methods of fracturing rock with high-pressure blasts of water, sand and chemicals, vast gas reserves in the United States are suddenly within reach.

As a result, said BP chief executive Tony Hayward, "the picture has changed dramatically."

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