Two years ago, Lee County Extension Director Susan Condlin began seeing paid advertisements in the local newspaper, inquiring about leases for mineral rights.

Condlin discovered that the natural gas industry was knocking on Lee County’s door, and many landowners didn’t have the information they needed to make informed decisions on leasing their mineral rights.

Since that time, North Carolina Cooperative Extension has played a key role in helping landowners in Lee and other counties understand how to protect themselves and their property when negotiating with natural gas companies.

Ted Feitshans, attorney and Extension associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University, has conducted several workshops for landowners in key natural gas counties, and on Dec. 8, he will conduct a workshop in Raleigh for attorneys.

Lee, Moore and Chatham counties are at the center of what may be a large natural gas deposit. In Lee County alone, natural gas companies have acquired mineral rights leases on more than 9,000 acres of land. Though the two practices key to releasing natural gas in shale deposits — injection of fluids and horizontal drilling — are not legal in the state, a legislative study on the practices is due out in May 2012.

Cooperative Extension isn’t taking a position on the controversial natural gas drilling practice known as “fracing” or “fracking” that is used to access shale gas. Feitshans and Condlin say Extension’s role is educating the public.

The issue of mineral rights leases is new to North Carolina, but Feitshans was a quick study. He contacted Extension colleagues in other states for information, and in June 2010, he conducted the first education session in Lee County for a crowd of 250. He has participated in other Lee County training programs, most recently in November, and has contributed to training programs in Chatham, Moore and Anson counties.

“We’re trying to do what Extension does best, which is present the most unbiased picture of the situation as is humanly possible,” Feitshans said.

Joining Feitshans for recent education sessions is Brandon King, Extension associate in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. King focuses on zoning issues and negotiation of mineral rights leases. Both are passionate about helping citizens and decision makers understand what’s at stake as the natural gas industry moves toward North Carolina.