Insights with Inked

A Q&A Interview with our CEO Lance Fondren

Inked is stepping into an exciting new chapter. We’re unveiling a new look, evolving our services, and introducing new resources aimed at helping energy developers and operators navigate infrastructure projects.

As we leap forward as a company, we sit down with Lance Fondren, the founder and CEO of Inked, for a candid conversation. We dive into how Inked got started and what’s ahead, and take a closer look at what we do to help land development projects reach the finish line.

If you’re new to Inked or have been a continued supporter, we hope you enjoy this conversation.

Q: Let’s start from the beginning, Lance. What inspired you to start a company focused on energy and infrastructure development, and how does your background inform your approach to this industry?

My professional career began at Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, where I acquired property rights, secured local permits, and supported construction efforts to connect production facilities to pipelines. As my career progressed, I began supporting acquisitions and divestitures of midstream systems and companies, and worked on multi-billion dollar capital expenditure projects alongside a talented team.

My journey then led me to a private equity-sponsored startup, where I was tasked with pre-construction responsibilities for a new gas, oil, and water system with a $750 million budget. We started this project with limited human resources, processes, and technology.

As I engaged with stakeholders in the infrastructure space (batteries, electric infrastructure, midstream, oil and gas, solar, wind, and more), I realized infrastructure developers come in many sizes and forms. For the right firms, a sophisticated team with a skillset like Inked could create added value and remove many of the frictions I experienced over time, being some of the same frictions they were, or are, experiencing. My background and Inked’s experience help us bring an in-house mentality and create value for developers and operators.

Q: What are the relevant challenges you face in the site acquisition process, and how does your company address these challenges?

One value add we bring to the table is bridging the gap between the sentiment of local property markets and the goals of infrastructure developers, which is a process that hinges on answering key questions:

  • What is the local political environment?
  • Is the project in an urban or rural setting?
  • How much land is required, and what property rights are needed?
  • How will aesthetics, farming operations, and the broader community be impacted?

Understanding community benefits, like landowner revenues and tax revenues, is also crucial.

A successful site acquisition process must be founded on building trust with landowners and the community by advocating for their interests. Infrastructure projects are often permanent fixtures in the landscape and demand a balance between landowner and developer needs. We strive to make mutually beneficial deals and ensure long-term alignment. While technical aspects like prospecting, GIS, campaign management, and data management are critical variables, building trust and promoting landowner interests remains the biggest challenge in the site acquisition process.

Q: Could you share a successful or impactful project your company has facilitated? What made it successful?

Our Land Services team has consistently delivered ready-to-build projects on time and within budget throughout the electric transmission, renewable, midstream, and upstream sectors. Our Title Services team excels in due diligence for acquisitions, securing mineral endorsements for renewable title policies, and producing abstracts for energy-producing drilling units. It isn’t easy to select a single project, but let’s go to the solar arena.

Site control and offtake for this solar project were secured. Still, the project could not move to construction without a title policy, which could not be issued without a mineral endorsement since the project was in an active oil and gas field.

If you aren’t familiar, the mineral estate is dominant to the surface estate, and underwriters do not like to bless a title policy if there is a likelihood a drilling rig will be stood up in the middle of a multi-hundred-million-dollar solar farm. Our title team completed the mineral title with a list of mineral owners and their divisions of interest.

Our land team conducted outreach and negotiated non-surface disturbance agreements with those mineral owners. In the end, our teams secured the appropriate property rights, engaged with underwriters, and mitigated risk to the point a mineral endorsement was secured and a title policy was issued. This project highlighted our teams’ ability to execute complex projects at a high level of proficiency and showed that oil and gas and renewable energy can co-exist.

Q: Let’s go into changes you’re seeing in energy and infrastructure development. How has the landscape changed since you started Inked? 

A brief background prior to answering this one…I am a Wyoming native. Growing up, options for work were primarily in coal mining, oil and gas extraction, or agriculture. I put myself through college by inspecting casing and drilling pipe on drilling rigs. Following college, I started my career at an oil and gas company. All that is to say, my perspective was heavily biased towards the oil and gas sector.

Over the years, my perspective became much more balanced during a few experiences. First, my experience at the Kellogg School of Management exposed me to cultural and business perspectives that helped shape a more balanced perspective of industry and life. Second, trends in renewables began to accelerate, and balancing economic prosperity with climate objectives became a focus of most people and businesses.

Historically, the word energy was related to coal and oil and gas. Today, it also includes renewables. Before the coronavirus pandemic, my perception was that renewables and oil and gas tended to be hostile to one another. Now, this division tends to be less dramatic. My peers in either space no longer view the other space as a threat but rather view them as contributors to energy.

At Inked, we support projects in energy and infrastructure at large. I believe participants in these markets are all needed to balance economic prosperity and climate objectives.

Q: How is the industry adopting new technologies? Where do you see Inked being ‘creative’ and ‘forward-thinking’ compared to what’s been done in the past?

Large infrastructure firms often hold strong opinions on traditional methods, which leads to resistance against new technologies. Inked and similar companies are changing how Land and Title Services are provided.

At Inked, we will never be comfortable with the status quo. One of our leadership principles is “Never Stop Growing”. We showcase this leadership principle in many ways, including a continual and consistent investment in Inked Land Flow. It allows us to create efficiencies across our teams and processes, gain insights about project and property flow times, benchmark performance of projects and land agents, and provide transparency to our clients. We continue evolving Inked Land Flow, pushing for transparency across our offerings, and setting the gold standard for how Land Services and Title Services should be delivered now and in the future!

Q: Okay, let’s talk about what Inked does and who they help today. What are the ideal projects you and your team want to work on?

We execute three project types exceptionally well. First, linear projects are why Inked was born, and these projects continue to be an area Inked shines. We have significant experience acquiring rights-of-way and permits for pipelines, electric transmission lines, electric distribution lines, and similar projects ranging from a few miles to hundreds of miles.

Second, Inked executes site control campaigns for surface sites extremely well. Our methods are sophisticated, and our experience spans battery energy storage systems (BESS), solar projects, wind projects, compressor stations, drilling locations, gas and oil processing plants, and similar facilities.

Third, we excel at mineral title. We offer abstracting, mineral ownership reports, lease takeoffs, mineral notification lists, due diligence for acquisitions and divestitures, and more.

Our project teams typically consist of a land or title manager, land agents, title agents, land administrators, GIS analysts, and back-office support. We have refined processes to execute large-scale projects with speed and precision. We manage everything we do in our technology, Inked Land Flow.

Q: Looking forward, what are Inked’s goals for the next five years, and how do you plan to expand or evolve your services to meet the needs of future energy and infrastructure development projects?

Over the next five years, there are several things we are planning for, some of which are confidential in nature. To name a few, I will focus on technology and expansion.

Inked Land Flow is going to change how infrastructure developers assess risk across development plans. It will provide precise success probabilities for projects in specific areas. It will help ensure certainty in flow times and cost variances. Overall, it will help tighten budget controls and set new standards for evaluating project performance.

Second, the density of our national footprint will continue to increase, and regional offices will evolve into hubs serving multiple sectors in a given geography. Other sectors will be a priority, and offerings for new or emerging sectors will be a focus. Telecom, geothermal, and carbon capture are markets you may see Inked in very soon!

Thanks for reading, and we hope you walk away with a better perspective of what Inked does, who we help, and our future goals.

If your team is on the doorstep of developing a new energy or infrastructure project, reach out to us here.

We’d love to see if there’s a fit and how we can help.