KINGSLEY (AP) - Dale Empet is a retired farmer and stone quarrier whose son grows corn and hay and raises dairy cattle in Harford Township.
Their Susquehanna County farm is also home to some of the most productive natural gas wells in Pennsylvania.
On Tuesday, the state Department of Environmental Protection released production data for the second half of 2013. Three of the five top-producing wells during that period are on Empet's land.
Cabot Oil & Gas operates the top 13 wells in the state during that period. All 13 are in Susquehanna County, where the company leases a largely contiguous area. Half of the top 50 wells from July to December 2013 belong to Cabot.
In November, the company's vice president of operations for its north region, Phil Stalnaker, said the thickness of the Marcellus Shale layer in Susquehanna County is the main reason for the productivity in this part of the formation.
Twenty-seven of the top 50 wells are in Susquehanna County, 11 are in Wyoming County, eight are in Bradford County, three are in Greene County and one is in Washington County.
The top well in the state, Empet D 8, produced 4.2 billion cubic feet of gas over the last six months of 2013 - an average of about 23 million cubic feet per day. One billion cubic feet would heat and fuel between 10,000 and 11,000 American homes for one year, according to America's Natural Gas Alliance.
Empet did not want to say how much the company pays him per month in royalties, but he said it's not enough to make him rich.
His 400 acres are carved up into three different production units. In 2007, he signed one of Cabot's early leases for $50 an acre and 12.5 percent royalties. He figures, after post-production costs have been deducted, he gets about 10.6 percent.
"It's more money than I ever dreamt of having," Empet said. "I'm paying taxes like crazy, but I'm not complaining. A lot of people would be happy to be in my position."
These royalties came with some trade-offs. Cabot built the pad on about 12 acres of Empet's most productive field.
"It took away that whole entire field," he said.
Water contamination was his biggest fear.
"That was the first question I asked when they approached me about leasing my ground," he said.
So far, he hasn't had any water quality problems.
Farming around the pipeline right of way on his land has been difficult, he said. When the line was going in, it was difficult for his son to cross it bringing the heifers out to pasture to graze. A chore that should have taken 20 minutes took four hours, Empet said.
"If I had to do it over again, I don't know if I would," he said. "But to get the gas out, you've got to have the pipeline."
Despite the difficulties, the unexpected income could prevent his children from having to sell off pieces of land, he said.
Empet said he is putting the royalty money in a family limited partnership for him, his wife and his three children. He thinks the money has increased the chances of all his land staying in the family.
"There's not that many farms left," he said. "I think it'll help keep ground open. It'll keep it from having to be sold off."