Michael O'Brien

Location of Interview
Collection Name

Gas Rush


This series consists of original digital audio interview recordings and selected CD listening copies relating to the Carrie and Michael Kline's documenting the wide spectrum of citizen opinion about natural gas extraction (Fracking / hydraulic fracturing) in Northcentral West Virginia mainly during 2014 and 2015. The interviews were drawn upon for use in the 8-minute audio feature Pay Dirt. Originals are housed with the Michael and Carrie Nobel Kline Collection at the Berea College Special Collections and Archives

To browse this collection and others, please visit the Berea College Special Collections & Archives: https://bereaarchives.libraryhost.com/

Date of Interview

Adept Word Management


Michael O’Brien was born on October 2, 1944, and currently resides in Doddridge County, West Virginia. Raised by a government meat inspector, O’Brien moved frequently between southern Florida and Virginia, finishing high school in the latter. After high school, he moved to Baltimore to live with his grandmother, hoping to find better opportunities. He spent ten years in Baltimore but ultimately sought a simpler life. O’Brien met his wife, Nancy, during his time in Baltimore. Together, they explored various locations before settling in a secluded area in West Virginia, where they have lived for over forty years. They have four children: Maggie, Rider, Morgan, and Casey, all of whom are now adults. Initially, the family lived without modern conveniences, using wood for heating and cooking and later accessing free gas from a nearby well. Michael operated a small garage business before transitioning to farming, focusing on self-sufficiency to avoid debt. He later obtained a college degree at 41 and worked in mental health services, alternating between farming and employment based on financial needs. O’Brien’s life has been heavily impacted by the oil and gas industry, leading him to engage in numerous legal and environmental battles to protect his land. 

Scope and Content Note
October 29, 2013: The interview with Michael O'Brien, conducted on October 29, 2013, at his home in Doddridge County, West Virginia, offers a comprehensive and personal narrative of his life, land ownership, and the environmental challenges posed by the oil and gas industry. O'Brien provides a detailed account of his background, including his upbringing in a family that moved frequently due to his father's job as a government meat inspector. He describes his eventual settlement in a secluded area of West Virginia, motivated by a desire for simplicity and isolation. Throughout the interview, O'Brien emphasizes his philosophy of land stewardship, detailing his efforts to maintain the ecological integrity of his property despite the pressures from gas companies seeking to drill on his land. O'Brien recounts the environmental damage he has witnessed, such as water contamination and soil erosion, caused by drilling activities. He discusses his proactive measures to mitigate these effects, including ongoing testing and remediation efforts. The interview also highlights the legal and economic challenges he faces, including complex negotiations with gas companies, financial pressures, and the broader impact of industrial activities on the local community. Additionally, O'Brien shares his personal health struggles, including a battle with cancer, and reflects on how these experiences have influenced his views on life and land conservation. This interview provides a poignant and detailed perspective on the intersection of rural life, environmental stewardship, and industrial encroachment​​.

March 13, 2014: The interview with Mike O'Brien, conducted by Michael Kline on March 13, 2014, covers O'Brien's experiences dealing with various oil and gas companies seeking to use his land in West Virginia for pipeline and drilling operations. Key companies mentioned include CONSOL, EQT, and Antero Resources. O'Brien details interactions with land management representatives from these companies who sought rights of way for pipelines and drilling pads on his property. The interview highlights O'Brien's negotiations, his refusals of monetary offers, and his insistence on fair treatment and clear agreements. O'Brien discusses his initial interactions with CONSOL, including offers of significant sums for rights to his land, and his concerns about the long-term impact on his property. He recounts subsequent negotiations with Antero, including disputes over road construction and the environmental impact on his land. O'Brien describes the psychological and strategic aspects of these negotiations, likening them to a chess game where he felt at a disadvantage. Throughout the interview, O'Brien expresses his frustration with the oil and gas industry's approach and his determination to protect his property rights. He also discusses legal advice he sought and his efforts to challenge the companies legally. The interview concludes with O'Brien feeling relieved that the companies decided to reroute around his property but remaining cautious about future developments. The interview provides insights into the challenges faced by landowners dealing with the oil and gas industry and highlights the complexities of land negotiations and property rights​​ .

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