Environmental Law

Mineral Rights

Key Takeaways:

  • Mineral rights can be owned and sold separately from property rights. 
  • Property owners can negotiate royalties, lease agreements, or easements to minerals on their land.
  • A title search can show property owners if the previous owner sold the mineral rights to the land.

The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that allows property owners to access, use, extract, and sell minerals from their property. If you find gold or strike oil on your land, you can become rich just by owning property in the right place.

Mineral rights interests give property owners a lot of options. You can sell the property to a mining operation or gas company to grant access to the valuable minerals. However, you can also give limited access to the minerals with a lease or easement and maintain ownership of the land.

If you have questions about valuable mineral interests on your land, talk to an experienced environmental law and estate attorney for legal advice.

What Are Mineral Rights?

Mineral rights are the ownership interest a property owner has in the minerals and natural resources on and in their property. Property rights include more than just ownership interests on the surface of the land. Traditionally, property rights extend from the center of the earth all the way to the sky above your land.

Minerals can include:

  • Oil
  • Gas
  • Coal
  • Precious metals (gold or silver)
  • Semiprecious metals (aluminum or copper)
  • Rare earth elements

Mineral interests can be separate from land interests. You can negotiate access to or a sale of the mineral rights in your land and continue to own the surface of the property. However, selling access to the minerals can disturb the surface of your land.

What Are the Different Types of Mineral Rights?

Most U.S. property laws are based on old common laws of England. Property law includes a lot of legal terminology that may not be very familiar. This includes the different types of mineral rights that you can buy, sell, or negotiate, including:

  • Unified or fee simple estate (including surface rights and subsurface mineral rights)
  • Split estate or severed estate (separating surface owner rights from the mineral rights below)
  • Mineral lease (allowing limited exploration of minerals with payment of a lease)
  • License (granting limited access to the mineral reserves without ownership interests)
  • Royalty payments (you receive a portion of the revenues from the business you grant mineral rights to)

Can I Sell My Mineral Rights?

If you own property that includes the surface land and mineral rights, you may be able to sell the mineral rights separately from the piece of land or sell off specific mineral access.

For example, you can sell oil and gas depth rights to an oil company for up to a certain surface depth. You could also sell the limestone rights to a mining operation.

Mineral rights can expire, depending on the contract you negotiate. If a mining company fails to pay you for the mineral rights, you may be able to reclaim your mineral rights.

However, before you buy a property with the expectation to be able to sell the minerals in the ground, you have to search the history of the property. A previous owner may have already sold the ownership of mineral rights. Any property transfers should involve mineral estate and title searches. A property law attorney can make sure you understand what you own and what you can sell.

How Can an Environmental Lawyer Help With Natural Resource Disputes?

An environmental lawyer can help with natural resource issues by avoiding disputes in the first place. If you are a real estate owner and want to sell surface or underground mineral resources, a mineral rights agreement can help you get exactly what you want. The agreement should be clear about what you are selling, including limits to the time, place, and types of access. A properly negotiated agreement can help you avoid disputes down the road.

If you do have a dispute with another property owner, oil and gas company, or local government, an environmental lawyer can represent you in court. An attorney can stop any unlawful access to your property, protect your property rights, and make sure you get compensated for any mineral lease and surface damage.

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