Get a lawyer first. The New York Times story about big companies taking advantage of small property owners isn't all that surprising, but the seeming willingness of landowners to sign a lease without understanding the details ... well, no, that's not surprising either, but it should be.
“If you’ve never seen a good lease, or any lease, how are you supposed to know what terms to try to get in yours?” said Ron Stamets, a drilling proponent and a Web site developer in Lakewood, Pa., who started a consumer protection Web site, PAGasLeases.com, in 2008 so that he could swap advice with his neighbors as he prepared to sign a gas lease. Others have also taken steps to better inform landowners about the details in leases. In the past several years, the attorneys general in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania have published advisories about the pitfalls of leasing land for drilling.And thank heavens for Stamets's website. But property owners stand to make a pretty decent chunk of change out of leasing their land to drillers: It should be a no-brainer that they hire a lawyer to examine the terms of the lease—never just accept the standard form!—and to get advice about what protections they want or need. The energy companies are looking out for their own interests, not yours. If you don't know enough to protect your interests, hire somebody who does.