Do you own your mineral rights? If you don’t, someone could drill on your land without your consent. Read to learn the steps you can take to find out if you own your mineral rights.
This handout includes:
I. Who Owns the Mineral Rights Under Your Land?
II. One Important Caveat
III. What Will You Need to Begin a Title Search?
IV. Where Do You Search?
V. What Are You Looking For?
VI. What Is a Deed Chain?
VII. What If Someone Else Owns the Mineral Rights Under Your Land?
1Who Owns the Mineral Rights Under Your Land? North Carolina is set to begin natural gas exploration after the General Assembly paved the way for legalizing hydraulic fracturing. In 2012, the General Assembly required the Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) to create the regulatory structure that will govern hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina. The General Assembly could move to issue permits once this rule-‐making process is complete. As a landowner, it is important to know if you own your mineral rights for two reasons. First, this is important if you are interested in leasing your minerals. Second, if you do not own your mineral rights but own the surface property, known as a split estate, there could be drilling on your land whether you consent or not. This document will walk you through steps involved in a mineral rights title search. One Important Caveat The information provided in this document should not be construed as legal advice. While an attorney was consulted during the development of this document, it is being provided for informational purposes only. Mineral rights title searches can be long and confusing, depending on when the mineral rights were severed from the surface rights. Interpreting documents can be difficult; if you do not own your mineral rights, it does not necessarily mean that you do not own the oil and gas rights. Often, hiring an attorney who specializes in this work is necessary before it can be determined who owns the rights to minerals under your land. If you have questions or any level of uncertainty, it is Do you own your mineral rights? If you don’t, someone could drill on your land without your consent. Here are the steps you can take to find out if you own your mineral rights. 2highly recommended that you consult an attorney. The North Carolina Bar Association has a lawyer referral service that can be reached at 1-‐800-‐662-‐7660 (in-‐state) or 919-‐677-‐8574 (out-‐of-‐state and in the Raleigh calling area). Details can be found at www.ncbar.org/public-‐pro-‐bono/lawyer-‐referral-‐service/for-‐the-‐public.aspx What Will You Need to Begin a Title Search? There are several things you will need as you start a mineral rights title search. Essentially, you will want any documentation that identifies the property you are researching. These documents include (1) current deed, (2) tax ID number, (3) previous owners, (4) previous deed copies, and (5) street address of the property. Where Do You Search? In North Carolina, the Register of Deeds for each county acts as the custodian of land titles and land transaction documents. Searches will differ depending on the county. The best way to start is by contacting your county and asking how to begin your search. They will direct you to either an online database or paper files. It is more likely that paper files will need to be searched for older deeds. County Register of Deeds offices can be located at www.ncard.us/Directory/CountyMap.htm What Are You Looking For? There are several items that are key to identify when searching within a deed for evidence of mineral rights ownership. These items include (1) the seller or “grantor,” (2) the buyer or “grantee,” (3) date of deed, (4) date deed was recorded, (5) the “legal” (acreage and county) description of the property, (6) the source of title or prior deed, and (7) any exceptions to the sale or reservations. This last item is perhaps the most important when determining if the minerals were severed from the surface at some point in the past. Conducting a Mineral Rights Title Search * This document drew heavily from “A Citizen’s Guide to Title Searches: Who Else Has an Ownership Interest in Your Land,” published in 2008 by the Mountain Watershed Association of Pennsylvania. www.mtwatershed.com
3What Is a Deed Chain? A deed chain is necessary when determining if and when the mineral rights were severed from your property. First, begin with the source of title. This is the indicator of the sale where the current seller or “grantor” bought the property. This will lead you to the prior deed. Repeat this process until you are able to find mention of the mineral rights in any exceptions or reservations to the sale. It is critical to maintain an unbroken chain. Failing to do so means that you cannot be sure of current ownership of the mineral rights. In the case of Lee County in North Carolina, mineral rights may have been severed as far back as the early 20th or 19th centuries. What If Someone Else Owns the Mineral Rights Under Your Land? Because the deed chain indicates the mineral rights under your land were severed prior to your purchase of the property does not mean your work is necessarily done. In North Carolina, the General Assembly has enacted a series of laws known as “dormant minerals” statutes. These laws extinguish “ancient” mineral rights of the owner and grant them back to the surface owner. Mineral rights are extinguished when (1) the 4title to oil, gas, or mineral rights is severed or separated from the surface estate, (2) the mineral interest is not in the course of being mined, drilled, worked or operated, or in the adverse possession of another, (3) the record title holder of the oil, gas or mineral interest must not have listed the property for tax purposes in the county for five years prior to January 1, 1986, and (4) the surface owner must have a legal capacity to own land, and must be able to establish a 30-‐year, unbroken deed chain.** This and all other aspects of determining mineral rights ownership can be very complicated. An attorney should always be consulted when determining mineral rights ownership. Additional Questions If you have additional questions about mineral rights or mineral rights leasing, please contact James Robinson of the Rural Advancement Foundation International-‐USA at 919-‐542-‐1396 ext. 209 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Figure: Trassic Basins where the potential for shale gas development exists ** North Carolina General Statutes § 1-‐42.9 (a)