Understanding Mineral Rights

Mineral rights are a cause of controversy among property owners. This is especially true in areas with oil and gas exploration. Owners of these rights have certain rights which are difficult for land owners to accept. These rights are often referred to as oil rights or sub-surface rights.

How They Are Separated

Originally all property rights are owned by the same owner, and this is still the case in many places. If separate, it is because a previous owner separated them, selling one and keeping the other. When separated certain rights go with the minerals. The owner who separates them understands this but future owners may not.

The owners of each have certain rights to their property. This is where the issue comes up with surface owners. When they buy land they may not understand that others own an interest underneath their property and also have rights.

Surface Owners

The owner of sub-surface rights has the right to use the surface of the land to access and mine their minerals. This includes the right to open a mine, drill a oil or natural gas well, and build roads and other infrastructure to support this activity.

The last thing a land owner wants is a drilling rig right out the front window. The company handling the drilling or mining is required to restore the property after they are finished, but they may drill and extract minerals for many years.

Researching Ownership

If you don’t live in an area with mining or oil and gas exploration you may not have a problem and in fact may own both rights together. If you live in an area of exploration it is unlikely you own the oil rights. If you don’t own them you should remember the rights the owner of them has.

It is a expensive process to research mineral owners. Mineral researchers do this work and you can get contact information for them from the local county recorder.

Keep in mind that the lack of mineral rights and the possible access by mineral owners has already been factored into the price of the property.

Buying and Selling

Sub-surface rights can be purchased and sold similar to surface rights. If not previously separated they will usually be transferred with the property. If you are concerned about the possible problems with mineral exploration and drilling you can offer to buy them.

Oil Lease

Before mineral exploration begins a lease is signed with the mineral owner. Exploration is expensive and the owner of the rights rarely does this themselves. A oil or mining company will lease the rights over a large area and do the exploration. Oil royalties will be paid to the owners if minerals are found.

Although buying property without the mineral rights is a concern, the odds of an oil rig on your property are low. It happens but this should not stop you from buying property if you find the property you want.


The owner of mineral rights has the right to enter property to access their minerals. This right was created when these rights were separated. When you buy land it is already subject to this right.

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