Mineral Rights in Oil and Gas: What You Need to Know

Mineral Rights in Oil and Gas: What You Need to Know

The traditional conception of real property ownership was that a landowner owned his plot of land along with a column of dirt down to the center of the earth and a column of air up to the sky. This conception no longer holds true. It is now common, especially in Southern Illinois, that when one purchases a piece of real property, the purchaser obtains title to the surface of the land, but not the column of dirt beneath it. Very often, the mineral rights to a piece of property have been severed, and the owner of the mineral rights has the authority to mine them. When mineral rights are severed in the conveyance of a piece of property, the severance creates two distinct and separate interests in the land—a surface estate and a mineral estate, either of which can be conveyed, devised, or leased. When this occurs, the owner of the surface estate is subservient to the owner of the mineral estate. This means that he may not interfere with the activities reasonably necessary to extract the minerals from underneath his land. While title to metallic minerals vests2 at the time of conveyance, title to oil and gas does not, due to the tendency of these types of minerals to move around under the earth. Rather, mineral rights in oil and gas do not vest until they are actually discovered. Thus, mineral rights to oil and gas are better conceived of as rights to exploration and, very often, they are mined pursuant to a mineral lease rather than outright ownership. These leases are subject to the same rules as...