You could be in for a rude awakening if a mining crew suddenly shows up on your property to begin drilling. Landowners usually aren't aware that they don't own the mineral rights to their property — the rights to gas, oil and other resources beneath the land. Mineral rights can be sold, inherited and transferred just like surface rights. Finding out who owns the mineral rights can be accomplished by searching county and state records. The search process can be a laborious one; hiring an oil and gas attorney may be the most cost-effective route.
Obtain a legal description of the property. The legal description of the property, including the legal address, property parcel number and tax identification number, can usually be found on the deed to the property. At the very least, a legal description is needed to start the search. States usually have property tax records located online that simply require a street address to locate a parcel number and legal description. Deeds aren't usually available online.
Determine what county the property is located in and visit the county clerk's office for that county. The clerk's office is the portal to the county records where mineral rights information can be found. Call ahead to find out the hours of operation, whether an appointment is needed, if you need to pay for parking and how much copies cost. Explain that you're doing a mineral rights search. Make sure you have the correct location and address for access to those records.
Decide in which direction you want to begin the search. Searches can be started in the present day and tracked back to the original land patent. Searches can also be started with the original land patent and traced forward to the present day. Searching backward can be laborious but necessary, depending on why you're looking. Starting with the original land patent can answer the question of ownership fairly quickly if the rights were retained by the government at the time of sale.
Search starting with the present day by using the legal description. Use the index book — records offices keep a central index that identifies where records are kept — to locate the legal description, then note where it tells you to look for the deed. Locate the deed and look for mineral rights information on the document. If none exists, move on to the previous deed using the legal description to locate it. Continue this process of finding the previous deed and searching the deed for mineral rights information. If the mineral rights were sold with the property, the deed states this.
Search using the original land patent. Original land patents are the original document assigning property rights. Much of the land in the U.S. was owned originally by the U.S. government and sold to private parties. Ownership of mineral rights can also be established at the time of statehood. The land patent document states whether the mineral rights were sold or kept by the government at the original transfer of property. A legal description of the land is needed to find the original land patent. Counties may not hold land patent information. Check with the state's bureau of land management for land patent documents if the county doesn't have them.
Make copies of each deed in the search, or at least make a written record so that your research is always available to you.
Gaps can occur in mineral rights records due to inherited rights, divorce and foreclosure. Probate, divorce decrees and foreclosure records may need to be examined to determine exactly who owns the rights. Lenders can come into ownership of mineral rights when a property is lost in a foreclosure.
Each county keeps its records differently. Some may keep documents in books, others may have placed them on to microfiche, and more modern offices may have put them into electronic form. As a result, each office has its own way to search for documents. Asking the clerk for assistance with the process is standard; however, asking him to do the searching for you isn't.
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