MIT Crowdsources "Landmen" Reports on Oil, Natural Gas Agents

February 3, 2010

In any story about oil and natural gas leases, "landmen" eventually turn up. These agents of oil and gas companies show up on the doorsteps of property owners and local officials, and at community meetings. Their job is to negotiate leases on the best terms for their employer at the lowest price. And sometimes the things landmen say and do in the course of their work are rather suspect.

On Jan. 22, MIT's Center for Future Civic Media published a new service for crowdsourcing information about individual landmen:

Billed as "a resource to support citizens negotiating with big energy," this site could become a useful tool for energy and environment reporting. Since this project is brand new there are few reports so far. But expect this project to grow steadily richer.

The site encourages citizens who interact with landmen to register with the site and fill out a "report card" on their experience. They can also upload supporting files (documents, photos, video, audio, etc.) These reports identify landmen and their employers by name. You can browse activity by location. So far, several landmen have been tagged with "unethical business practices," "rushed," and similar descriptors.

If landmen are active in your area — and especially if their activities are controversial — publicizing this site could spur interesting discussion and useful local information. The more reports of landmen that are filed for your area, the more information you (and your community) have to go on. Since you can track individual landmen by name through this site, and since landmen tend to move around a lot, you might acquire useful background about the track record of a new landman on the local scene.

Since landman activities are often sensitive for political, legal, or business reasons, users who file landmen reports on the site can opt to make their report public or accessible to a group of users that they define. Reporters might gain access to some of these trusted groups on the condition that the private information be used only on background.

The site's FAQ does caution contributors about the risk of SLAPP lawsuits.

The Report Card site also offers a short citizen's guide: "Help! There's a Landman at My Door!" This document is available for free republication, with attribution, under a Creative Commons license.

Bear in mind that the landmen reports on this site are filed by community members and are not verified by the Center for Future Civic Media or anyone else. Even though this information may require corroboration, it can be a useful starting point.

How are landmen supposed to work? The site includes an edited version of the code of ethics for the American Association of Professional Landmen.