How shale gas changed one family:

About a year ago while Keith Mauck was studying to take the bar exam, he had one of those conversations with his wife you just wish had been captured on film. It may have started something like this:
“Honey, let’s scrap this idea of me being a lawyer for now so I can write a blog about natural gas.”
Despite his trepidation, the conversation actually ended quite well for the 34-year-old Indiana native and father of two. His site recently passed its one-year anniversary boasting more than 10,000 registered members and dozens of active discussion groups.

A Devon Energy flex-drilling rig in the Barnett Shale, a Texas formation similar to the Haynesville formation in Louisiana. (Kevin Fujii / Chronicle

The site centers around a very specific topic: the Haynesville shale formation that runs about 14,000 feet under parts of Northwest Louisiana/Northeast Texas and some of Arkansas, which some predict holds many trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. It’s a largely rural area where in the past few years exploration and production companies like Chesapeake Energy and PetroHawk have been busy prospecting.
Mauck’s interest in the topic came about when companies expressed interest in a 300-acre farm his wife’s family owns in the area. A Google search of “Haynesville shale” at the time brought up a single newspaper article and a geology web site, Mauck said, but nothing about what constituted a fair price for a lease or what else the landowners could expect. Thus was born the site.
“The original purpose was to get a better picture of the play and help people figure out if they were getting decent offers or not,” Mauck said. “Northwest Louisiana is very rural and there’s a lot of ground to cover.”
And it has served that purpose well, as one reader comment attests:

“I had not heard from a landman offering more than $500.00 per acre and I found out through this site that I could email the companies myself…2 weeks ago today, I emailed a few of the larger [companies] involved, my first offer from Chesapeake was $4,000 and my first offer from XTO was $11,000 [has since been followed up with a $16,000 offer]. This site has changed my and my son’s life for the better, college is no worry for us now. Thank you again.”

The site isn’t particularly slick looking but rather reflects the do-it-yourself nature of the reader-generated content. In addition to dozens of discussion groups, there are places for readers to post photos (and songs) as well as hosted live chats (full disclosure: we took part in one of these discussions a few months ago, answering a steady stream of questions from readers online).
Mauck said sometimes he needs to step in to make sure members aren’t being discourteous, but that’s rare.
“We try to maintain a certain decorum, and we fail and we succeed. But most people get the idea after a first warning and learn from the rest of the community what is expected,” Mauck said. “Most really want to contribute to the community.”
The site has turned into a full-time job for Mauck, funded by online advertisers and run out of his family’s Virginia home. He’s close to Washington, D.C., so he regularly goes into the city for meetings and hearings related to energy policy in order to bring back original reporting to the site readers.
But he hasn’t turned his back on that law career completely.
“I told my wife they offer the bar twice a year, so that really won the day for starting the site in the beginning,” Mauck said.
He plans to take the test in February.