Understanding Surface Rights vs. Mineral Rights!
April 20, 2016
The United States is the only country in which the government does not automatically own any minerals or resources beneath the surface of property owned by its citizens. Almost all substances within the soil on a parcel of land belong to the property owner, unless the owner of that property has sold their mineral rights. Anyone can sell mineral rights, or even mineral royalties; however, understanding the difference between the two and how they affect surface rights is essential.
What Are Mineral Rights?
Mineral rights are a property owner’s right to the mineral content in the soil of their property. In the United States, landowners own the rights to anything that is found under the surface of their land, unless those rights have been sold to someone else. Because mineral rights can be sold to another party, some land purchases may come without rights to the minerals that may already belong to someone else. This is all documented in the property title, so there is a record of who actually owns the minerals beneath the surface of a parcel of land.
What Are Surface Rights?
Surface rights are the rights to the land surface of any piece of land. Landowners have surface rights and mineral rights, unless they sell their mineral rights. Once this has been done, a second party then owns the minerals within the soil, while the original property owner retains ownership of the surface and any existing structures. In a sense, it is sharing the same property; one owner is interested in the surface land and the other interested in what is beneath the land. There are some caveats that property owners should know in terms of surface rights before selling their mineral rights.
Mineral Rights Grant Access to the Surface
When someone sells their mineral rights and retain their surface rights, they lose control over what actually happens on their land. The mineral rights owner who wants to extract resources from the ground has the ability to mine or drill anywhere on the property to complete such actions. This is irregardless of the surface rights held by the original property owner. In other words, should the property owner have their own plans for the land surface or the mineral rights owner has a need to dig or drill in an inconvenient location, the mineral rights owner has the legal right to access minerals in the soil. The surface owner has no say in when, where, or how the land is mined or drilled once mineral rights have been sold, which should be of prime concern for anyone selling mineral rights.
If you have mineral rights that you are thinking about selling, the issue of surface rights and loss of control over the surface to a new mineral rights owners should be weighed very carefully before concluding any sale. A more favorable choice may be to sell mineral royalties, as it leaves landowners with complete control over the location of drilling and mining on the surface. In either case, whether selling mineral rights or mineral royalties, landowners must understand the effect that each has on their surface rights to the land, and make a wise yet cautious decision!
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