The Biggest Income Investing Story in America

Just a few short years ago, Williston, North Dakota, was a sleepy little agricultural town with a population of less than 15,000. But thanks to a recent economic boom, Williston has quickly become one of the most fascinating places on the planet.

People in this little town in the northern United States are making fortunes.

Oscar Stohler and his wife Lorene have ranched nearby for decades. According to Fox News, a couple of years ago, they became millionaires practically overnight, thanks to America’s new energy boom. “It’s the easiest money we’ve ever made,” said Lorene.

But they aren’t alone. The number of people in North Dakota reporting income of $1 million or more jumped 39% from 2009 to 2010, according to the Associated Press. In fact, the same scenario is playing out with thousands of people all across the country. I found similar stories in Pennsylvania… in Texas… and in West Virginia.

You’ve likely never heard of Williston.

The town is as close to the “middle of nowhere” as you can get in the United States. The nearest major city is Winnipeg, Canada — more than 300 miles away. The nearest Target store is 150 miles away in Bismarck, North Dakota. And just to get on I-94, the closest interstate to Williston, takes a drive of at least 90 miles.

And yet, thousands are flocking to this far-flung part of the country hoping to strike it rich.

Williston is ground zero for the “shale boom.” Advanced techniques such as horizontal drilling and “fracking” (pumping water and sand into wells to break up the rock, releasing oil and gas) have made it possible for energy companies to tap into enormous shale formations that were simply not viable just a few years ago. This has created a new energy boom in dozens of places around the nation that sit on top of shale beds.

Williston sits in the middle of the Bakken Shale. This massive formation spreads more than 200,000 square miles and is estimated to hold 3-5 billion barrels of oil.

The boom in the Bakken Shale is so big that the oil and gas companies are doing everything they can to attract workers. Today, it’s not unusual for entry-level workers (some even without high school diplomas) in the field to make six-figures while working 80-hour weeks. At a time when unemployment nationwide is sitting at 8.3%, Williston’s unemployment rate is just 1.5%.

One local weekly paper went from seeing $100,000 in ad revenue to more than $2 million — due largely to the increase in help-wanted ads. Desperate for workers, wages at fast-food restaurants are $15 an hour. Entertainers at gentlemen’s clubs can attract $2,000-$3,000 per night. As one club owner put it, “My best girls would rather dance here than in Vegas, because they make more money here.”

Meanwhile, Williston is seeing a massive housing shortage. Many workers have resigned to sleeping in tents or in their cars — not because they can’t afford housing (which in some cases has risen to as much as $1,500 for a one-bedroom apartment), but simply because vacant homes and apartments are rare.

But believe it or not, while thousands are coming from all over the country to Williston (and similar small towns across the United States) to work hard in the shale fields and earn eye-popping wages, the people making the biggest fortunes from the boom are doing something totally different…

They’re doing nothing.

Land owners such as Oscar and Lorene Stohler who I mentioned earlier, are becoming millionaires practically overnight by simply leasing out their land to energy companies. And this is happening all over the country.

For instance, land in the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania might have been leased at $2 per acre in 2000. That same land is leasing at $2,400 per acre today. And that’s on top of royalties of 20% on the oil and gas pulled out of the land.

This money is changing lives…
“Jeff and Pamela Barnes of Lawrenceville, Pa., work a dairy farm in Tioga County that’s been in Jeff’s family for generations. A year ago, like so many farmers, they were juggling a lot of debt, sometimes scrimping to get by.

“Before, if something broke, it was broke. There was no replacing it,” says Pamela. “Before” means before the royalty payments, which can range from $8,000 to $35,000 a month, for the natural gas extracted from the shale thousands of feet beneath the Barneses’ farm…

“Royalties have been coming in for nearly a year, allowing the family to pay off bills, purchase machinery and invest $50,000 in a portfolio of mutual funds.”

Kiplinger, November 2011

According to Kiplinger, a landowner with 100 acres in the Marcellus Shale area “might expect $2 million in royalties over 20 years.”

Now, I doubt you own any oil or gas-soaked land sitting on top of a shale formation. But there is a way to earn royalties from the shale boom happening across the United States… without buying even an acre of land. It’s as simple as buying a single share of stock in a “royalty trust.”

These investments are specifically built for only one purpose — to pay out oil and gas royalties earned from well-established fields littered with wells. Buying one share of a royalty trust is essentially buying a personal stake in a field of proven oil and gas wells.

And that stake can make a fortune…

For example, take a look at shares of BP Prudhoe Bay Trust (NYSE: BPT). BPT is one of the best-known and largest royalty trusts. Buying just a single share gives you a stake in the first 90,000 barrels of daily production from the Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska — the largest oil field in North America.

In 2011, BPT paid out $9.40 in royalties per share. Meanwhile, the total returns have been outstanding. Thanks to rising oil prices, the trust has returned 2,280% in the past decade.

I wouldn’t buy shares of BPT right now, but I like to use the stock as an example of exactly what these royalty trusts can do. And with the new energy boom well underway all over America, your options with high-yielding royalty trusts are increasing. I can’t think of a bigger income story right now.

Action to Take –> Don’t get me wrong, you aren’t guaranteed to make money. But if you are looking for high yields (often 10%-plus), I can’t think of a better place to look right now.

To learn more, my colleague Nathan Slaughter, chief strategist of Energy & Income, has some past articles on these royalty trusts that you can view here and here.

He’s also put together an entire presentation on the opportunities in high-yielding royalty trusts (which yield up to 17%) that you can view here. He calls them “Pickens” income streams after T. Boone Pickens, who first popularized these trusts decades ago. Visit this link to learn more about these opportunities.