Dirty Deeds: Sizing up the acreage

500,000 acres may sound like a lot.  Still, let's put that number into perspective.

Take the island of Manhattan, multiply the size by 33 and you get 500,000 acres.  Or try the footprint of the city of New Orleans, from New Orleans East to the 17th Street Canal, throw in Algiers and multiply that by 2.23 and you get 500,000 acres.

It's a lot of land.

In late 1935, Governor O.K. Allen decided to lease that much land – 500,000 acres -- of state land, awarding an oil lease to his lieutenant governor, James Noe.

It's one of the subtle oddities of these questionable leases we've discovered after two years of research.  If you look at most of the leases of that time, the 1930's, the largest swaths of land seemed to end up in the hands of W.T. Burton and the Win or Lose Corporation, the company belonging to three governors -- Huey Long, James Noe and O.K. Allen.

The state leases that W.T. Burton won, and Win or Lose received some type of royalty interest in, averaged 126,000 acres.  The other leases in that period that did not go to them averaged about 14,000 acres -- a 112,000-acre difference.

Top Five La. Royalty Allocations by Lease in 2011

RankLease NumberRoyalty AllocatedParishYear AwardedRetained Acres
119266        30,939,232.97 Iberia2007            1,436.260
200195        23,627,184.83 Plaquemines, St. Bernard1928         56,339.000
317990        19,261,146.15 Plaquemines2003               205.000
400340        19,224,320.90 Iberia, St. Mary, Vermilion1936       137,899.327
500192        13,793,011.46 Lafourche, Plaquemines1928         29,927.000

Since 1990, the more than 1,300 oil leases awarded by the state averaged 263 acres of land.  Compare that to the state's two largest active leases.

The Burton- and Win or Lose-controlled State Lease 340 spreads over 78,000 acres.  The state has claimed back some of the land for inactivity, but still the 1936 lease is the largest in terms of size.

Number two is State Lease 195, another lease where Win or Lose has a royalty interest that currently covers 56,000 acres.  Again, the average lease size right now is just 263 acres.


The Attorney General's office says it's preparing to proceed as requested, by the State Mineral Board and a House resolution, and investigate the series of questionable oil leases from the 1930's.

AG Buddy Caldwell's office says they'll be asking for new funding, though, to conduct a "thorough and complete investigation" -- about $500,000.  The money would help hire outside specialized legal counsel and experts to see if the state can cancel these leases, dating back to the Huey Long era.