By: Eliezer Shaffren, Esq., Counsel, Madison Title Agency
In a typical real estate transaction between a buyer and a seller, when title to real property is transferred, all corresponding rights are transferred as well. In such a scenario, the property transferred is a ‘fee simple’ estate. The owner of a fee simple estate owns all corresponding rights to the land, including land, sky, water, and minerals. However, some states allow for the owner to stipulate severance of these rights, leading to a “split estate” system. The “split estate” system allows one parcel to be owned by separate and distinct entities. There is also a system called “fractional ownership” where the surface owner splits the ownership of the mineral rights with others, such as other family members, a corporation, or the government. Lastly, there is a “severed ownership” system, where the government owns all oil and gas resources below non-federally owned surface property.
Mineral rights, or subsurface rights, are a significant aspect of the gas and drilling industry. A drilling company will purchase the mineral rights to various adjoining properties in a certain region and then drill down and horizontally across the properties to extract the underground gasses. This could be beneficial to the landowner because he is selling or leasing rights to a valuable resource that he would be unable to access on his own. However, there are risks inherent in deeding or leasing subsurface rights to a drilling company.
There are three ways in which a drilling company can obtain rights to drill underneath privately-owned real estate. Continue reading