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Severed mineral rights, other terms to know when buying property

On Behalf of | Apr 3, 2024 | Real Estate Transactions

If you’re considering buying a property here in Oklahoma, it’s important to know whether there are natural resources underneath it such as natural gas, oil, coal and precious metals. These resources, which could be miles underground, come with mineral rights. These rights give the owner the authority to drill or otherwise extract the resources under the property.

In some cases, the property ownership includes the mineral rights. This is known as unified rights or a unified estate. If that’s the case, they’ll be included with the deed. 

Mineral rights vs. surface rights

If the mineral rights are separate or “severed,” then a property owner needs to know what’s included in their own “surface rights.” More importantly, they need to know what the mineral rights owner can do to get the minerals out from underground – and what their plans are. 

Because mineral rights are considered “dominant” over surface rights, the owner of them “has the right to explore, drill, mine and extract natural resources from the subsurface of your property without your permission,” according to one mineral tax professional. Often, they give a third party the right to do that for them.

Variations on severed mineral rights

Typically, in states with considerable underground resources, including Oklahoma, mineral rights are severed from surface rights. In some cases, however, rights to some minerals may be severed, while rights to others come with the property. 

Further, different people or entities may share the mineral rights. This can happen when a piece of land has been handed down over generations. One person may have the oil and gas rights while another has the precious metals rights.

What is “reasonable surface use?”

How much of the surface land they can use to do this has been the subject of court battles. There’s a “reasonable surface use” doctrine that typically governs this and can prohibit destruction and damage of structures on the land.

It’s crucial to know before you buy a property what the status of the mineral rights is. If they aren’t listed on the deed, a prospective buyer may have to do some digging in local records to get a definitive answer. 

A geological survey may even be necessary. Further, even if no resources of value were detected in the past, that doesn’t mean they aren’t detectable now with more advanced technology.

It’s a lot to consider. Having experienced legal guidance can help you make informed decisions.