Oklahoma permits separate ownership of surface and mineral rights, a phenomenon referred to as a “severed estate.” A severed estate can be created at any time in a property’s past when the original holder of both surface and mineral rights chose to sell the mineral rights to an interested party.
When mineral rights are severed from surface rights, the transfer of surface rights to a new owner does not necessarily mean that the mineral rights ownership will come along with the surface rights. That is why, in Oklahoma, when buying a property, look into who owns the mineral rights before you buy. Certain surface rights come with mineral rights. The mineral rights owner has the right to access the land and reasonably disrupt the surface in the process of exploration.
Mineral rights ownership is listed on an Oklahoma property’s warranty deed. Warranty deeds can be looked up at the courthouse of county where the property is situated. On the warranty deed, notes pertaining to mineral rights ownership can be found in the reservations and title policy schedule. Is someone has reserved the mineral rights at some time in a property’s past, there should be a note in the reservations section that says “surface only.” County courthouses store warranty deeds that trace a property’s origin. You or someone you hire might have to look back through a few warranty deeds before you can ascertain mineral rights ownership.
The holder of mineral rights in Oklahoma has the right to prospect for minerals. With that right comes certain surface rights, including access to the land and the ability to reasonably disrupt the surface through the process of exploration. This is often to the dismay of the surface rights owner. Surface rights owners who believe that their land has been unreasonably disturbed can file a complaint online at the Oklahoma Department of Mines (see resources).
Severed Estate Benefits
Severed estates can be beneficial for both parties. For the mineral rights purchaser, they can obtain the rights to prospect for minerals at a reduced cost, especially if expensive buildings are on the land. For the seller of mineral rights, they can earn some cash, and might not be interested or able to undertake exploration on their own. From the viewpoint of the potential mineral rights purchaser, perhaps they want to explore for minerals on a property but don’t want to pay for the buildings on the land. Then, it makes sense to purchase mineral rights only.