By Sarah Tanksalvala – Freelance Journalist – April 14, 2014
The United States of America is the only country in the world with privately owned mineral rights. In most countries, the government owns the land below the surface. In America, however, those rights are a commodity, and one which landowners can use to help protect their own rights where mining – including oil and gas drilling – is involved.
Mineral rights are the rights to land below the surface. If that land contains oil, gas or other valuable materials, the owner of the rights can choose to extract them. Mineral rights can be owned, leased and sold separately from the land’s surface and structures.
“It’s an incredible blessing to have the opportunity to have mineral development,” says Michelle Smith of the National Association of Mineral Owners (NARO). “It can be legacy-changing for your family, life changing for your family’s future.”
A surface owner who owns the mineral rights to his or her property can choose to lease or sell them to an oil company. The owner can negotiate the terms of this agreement, with the cost, compensation and protections desired. This can be incredibly valuable in a number of ways, Smith says.
Sometimes, the surface owner doesn’t own the land’s mineral rights. They may have, for instance, purchased land in which the mineral rights had already been sold to another private individual or business. Mineral rights are a separate asset from anything else on the land and, in such cases, oil companies who want to use the mineral rights to build a well must negotiate a surface agreement with the owner including compensation