In the U.S., mineral rights may be sold separately from property rights. This means that, as a property owner, you may not necessarily own the rights to extract or use any minerals discovered beneath your property. If oil, natural gas or other valuable minerals have been discovered in your area, it's important to understand your rights and what you can do.
Understanding Mineral Rights
Mineral rights refers to the rights to any mineral found below the surface, including oil, natural gas, gold, and copper. A mineral owner has the right to extract and use the minerals found below the surface of the land. In some cases, a mineral rights transfer grants rights to specific minerals, such as oil only, but it may include all minerals under the ground.
In the United States, mineral rights are included automatically when legal title to the land is transferred, unless ownership is at some point separated. A land owner can separate the mineral rights from the land by selling or transferring the land but retaining mineral rights, selling the rights but retaining the land, or selling the rights to one person and the land to another. After the rights are separated, each sale of the property includes just the land.
Does it Always Matter Who Owns the Rights?
Many homeowners are surprised when they discover that they do not actually own the mineral rights on their property. In many cases, though, property owners have no need to find out if they own the mineral rights. This is because removing minerals is very expensive and potentially damaging to the property.
Property owners who live in areas without historic coal mining, oil or gas drilling, or mineral extraction typically do not need to worry about mineral ownership, as it's unlikely there are many minerals under the land. Because United States law usually prohibits a mineral rights owner from damaging or affecting the use of homes or property on the land, property owners in cities or areas with many structures on small plots of land usually have no need to worry about who owns the mineral rights.
Who owns the mineral rights to the land does become a concern in areas where mineral extraction is typical. Property owners who do not own the mineral rights in an area where natural gas drilling or mining is common may one day hear from the mineral owner.
What Rights Does the Mineral Owner Have
The mineral owner has the right to remove the minerals from the land without obtaining permission from the land owner, or surface owner. These rights usually include the right to use the surface land to access and mine the minerals, which may include excavating a mine or drilling a well. The mineral rights holder can also build improvements such as roadways. The owner of the rights can also lease these rights to extract minerals and then receive income.
In some cases, the rights of the mineral owner are restriction. There may be a time limit on how long the excavation or drilling can last. Many state and local laws also regulate mineral extraction to reduce the impact on the environment and protect the land owner from side effects of the operations.
What You Can Do As a Property Owner
If you do own the mineral rights and you are contacted to buy the mineral rights, you may be offered a lease agreement, which typically gives you a small down payment and then monthly royalty payments based on the value of the minerals produced.
If you are contacted about mineral extraction on your property, it's advisable to seek advice from a mineral rights attorney. This is a very complex area of law, and there may be restrictions on the surface use of the land by the mineral rights owner. An experienced attorney can help you determine who truly owns the mineral rights by tracing deeds back to the first conveyance. If someone is claiming a valid ownership right to the minerals, a specialist from Doré Law Group says you may want to discuss ways to minimize the negative effects of the extraction operations on your property.
Mineral rights is a very complicated area of law. While most property owners never need to know who owns the rights to minerals under their land, this information is important if there is a chance valuable minerals can be discovered and extracted. You can learn more about your rights as the property owner by consulting with an attorney experienced in natural resources law.