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Bar Bar 

M & M Mars was born in a Tacoma, Washington kitchen in 1911 when candy salesman Frank Mars set his sights on making the best candy bar on the market.  He and wife Ethel made and sold chocolate buttercreams out of their house for nine years.  Locally very successful, they moved their business to a Minneapolis candy factory and by 1930, Mars, Inc. was grossing $800,000 a year selling Milky Way Bars and Snickers Bars.

(Snickers Bars were named after one of the family’s beloved horses and remain the best-selling candy bar of all time.)

Fast-forward: Mars is now ranked America’s sixth-largest privately held company with 40,000 employees and $21 billion in annual sales. (Green M & M, anyone?) Frank and Ethel’s grandson, Forrest E. Mars, Jr. , is a 75-year old retired CEO with a personal fortune of $14 billion (#19 on Forbes’ 2007 Richest Americans list). 

Despite the Mars family’s long-standing reputation for super-secrecy, Forrest made headlines this week as an opponent of an energy company’s plans to tap into a great American wilderness: southeastern Montana’s Tongue River area, which has extensive coal and natural gas reserves.  

Forrest resides in Virginia but owns an 82,000-acre ranch called Diamond Cross near the town of Birney, Montana.  The ranch falls under “split-estate” laws from the (perhaps outdated?) Stock Raising Homestead Act of 1916 when the government gave 60 million acres of western land to ranchers, but reserved the mineral rights for itself.  It then leased the rights to energy companies.  

The government has rights to 10,000 acres at Diamond Cross — and a company called Pinnacle Gas Resources has the lease to drill for natural gas.

“Coal-bed methane development” is the process of extracting natural gas from the ground, and it starts in aquifers.  Huge volumes of water are pumped out and disposed of to get to the natural gas.  Forrest Mars opposes the development because Diamond Cross  is in an arid area and requires its water reserves for crops and livestock. 

Coal-bed methane development has put some ranchers out of business. It has also affected populations of wildlife like mule deer and antelope (where the deer and the antelope play!) and may put the sage grouse on the Endangered Species list.

Last Thursday, despite putting his fortune to work in several lawsuits, Forrest Mars lost his bid to keep Pinnacle at bay.  Pinnacle began drilling 90 minutes after a state judge issued a ruling that Pinnacle had a right to drill there.

Tom Richmond,  an administrator from the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation, offered a solution to the situation: he said Pinnacle’s stock is worth about one percent of Mars’ fortune, so Mars should simply buy the publicly traded company.

What do you think about that?

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