What are Mineral Rights and How Do They Work

Imagine you’ve inherited a piece of land from a relative. As you go through the documents, you discover a note mentioning mineral rights. Curiosity piqued, you begin to wonder what this means. Could valuable resources like oil, gas, or other minerals be beneath your property? If so, what rights do you have to these resources, and how can you benefit from them?

Understanding mineral rights is essential for anyone involved in property ownership or considering investments in property with potential subsurface value. Whether you’re a landowner who might have separate mineral owners to deal with or someone who has inherited mineral rights, knowing the intricacies of mineral ownership and rights can help you make informed decisions. In this article, we’ll explore mineral rights, the different types of mineral rights, the benefits of owning minerals, how to determine mineral ownership, and the process of buying and selling these rights.

mineral rights

What are Mineral Rights?

Mineral rights, also commonly known as mineral interests, are the ownership rights to underground resources such as fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, coal), metals and ores, and mineable rocks like limestone and salt. In the United States, mineral rights can be severed from the surface rights. This is generally referred to as a “split estate” and means that the ownership of the land (surface rights) can be separated from the ownership of the minerals beneath it (mineral rights). This separation allows different parties to own the surface estate and the mineral estate independently of each other.

When you own mineral rights, you have the executive right to use, lease, explore, develop, and produce the minerals beneath the surface of a tract of land. This could involve activities like drilling an oil well, mining for gold or copper, or the use of other forms of extracting the minerals. The owner of mineral rights can lease these rights to a mining or oil company, sell them outright, or pass them down through inheritance. This flexibility makes mineral rights a valuable asset.

Mineral Rights, also known as Mineral Interests

Having an understanding of mineral rights is crucial for managing and benefiting from the resources beneath a property.

Ownership of property in its entirety is known as “fee simple”.  This means the owner of the property owns the surface (dirt, grass, rocks, etc.), minerals (oil, gas, uranium, etc.), and water.  Simply put, the owner of the property owns everything.  When the minerals are severed from the surface a “split estate” is created.  Surface interest owners and mineral interest owners each have certain rights.

Surface Rights, also known as Surface Interests

Surface rights grant the owner the ability to use the land’s surface for various purposes such as agriculture, construction, and recreation. However, these rights do not always include the ownership of the minerals located beneath the surface. Surface rights owners can control the land’s surface activities but do not have the authority to explore or extract underground minerals if the mineral interest has been severed from the surface. Severance of the mineral estate from the surface estate is significant because it allows for the separation and independent ownership of surface and subsurface rights.

Mineral Rights, also known as Mineral Interests

Mineral rights, also known as mineral interests, provide the mineral owner with the executive right to use, lease, explore, develop, and extract minerals from beneath the land. Mineral interests can be complex because they include a range of rights related to the discovery and extraction of minerals, including the right of ingress and egress, and use of the surface, when reasonably necessary, to develop the minerals, making them a valuable asset for those who hold them.  Mineral owners may also benefit financially from Lease Bonus Payments, Rental Payments, and Royalty Payments.

Oil and Gas Rights

Oil and gas rights are a specific type of mineral right that generally pertains to oil, gas, and other hydrocarbons. These rights are unique due to the “rule of capture,” which allows the producer to extract oil and gas even if these resources migrate from neighboring properties. This means that if an oil company drills a well and the oil or gas flows from adjacent lands, the company still has the right to capture and sell it. Oil and gas rights often involve complex lease agreements that detail the terms of exploration, drilling, and production, as well as the payments to be made to the mineral rights owner.

Royalty Rights

In association with the mineral rights are the royalty rights.  Royalty rights can provide the mineral owner with a stream of income generated from mineral production without having to partake in and bear the cost of extracting the minerals. Instead, mineral rights owners receive a portion of the revenue from the minerals produced by another party. This setup allows mineral rights owners to benefit financially from the minerals without having to engage in the extraction process. Royalty rights are particularly attractive to investors who want to earn passive income from mineral resources.

Benefits of Owning Mineral Rights

Owning mineral rights grants the holder the executive right to use, lease, explore, develop, and extract minerals from beneath the surface of a piece of land. To utilize these rights, the holder may lease their mineral interest to a company that wishes to develop and produce the minerals.  To produce the minerals the company often needs access to the land’s surface, which may involve activities such as drilling wells, conducting mining operations, or other forms of mineral extraction.

These activities, however, are not without regulation. Various agreements and laws are in place to ensure that the use of surface land for mineral extraction does not cause undue damage or environmental harm. Surface damage agreements typically specify the types of activities permitted and outline the responsibilities of the company to restore the land and compensate the surface owner for any damage incurred. Additionally, environmental regulations at local, state, and federal levels mandate compliance with standards designed to protect ecosystems, manage waste, and prevent pollution. Failure to adhere to these agreements and regulations can result in penalties, including fines.

The flexibility of mineral rights is one of their most valuable aspects. Mineral interest owners can choose to lease their minerals to companies that specialize in mineral extraction, receiving lease bonus payments and royalties based on the production of minerals. This can provide a steady income stream without the mineral interest owners needing to engage in the extraction process themselves.

Alternatively, mineral rights can be sold outright, transferring all exploration, development, and extraction rights to the buyer. This can be a lucrative option, especially if the mineral deposits are significant. Mineral rights can also be passed down through inheritance, allowing them to stay within a family or be distributed according to the owner’s estate plans. This independent ownership means that even if the surface land is sold, the mineral rights can remain with the original owner or their heirs.  Moreover, the mineral rights owner can convey just the royalty rights, or a portion of the royalty rights, maintaining ownership of the mineral rights, along with the executive right to lease and develop the minerals.

Determining Mineral Rights Ownership

Understanding who owns the mineral rights beneath a piece of property is crucial, as these minerals can significantly impact the property’s value and potential uses. Often, mineral rights are severed from surface rights, meaning they can be sold or leased separately. To determine ownership, a thorough title search is necessary.

A title search traces the history of property ownership, including any transactions involving the minerals. This requires examining patents, deeds, contracts, wills, agreements, leases, and other legal documents recorded at county or municipal offices. Given the complexity of these records, it’s wise to enlist the help of a title search specialist. They are experts in researching land and mineral records and can navigate and understand historical records and legal documents to ensure no important detail is overlooked.

Land records at the County Courthouses and Abstract Offices are examined, beginning with an examination of the indices for a specific parcel of land.  The title examiner will examine and review every document indexed against the lands from the patent to the present record date, including patents, deeds, leases, mortgages, and numerous other documents.  Additionally, the examiner will review tax records, divorce records, probate files, and case files involving the property.  Once the ownership is determined, the examiner will check court records for any pending actions or disputes that might affect or encumber the ownership.

After completing the title search, the title search specialist will provide a detailed report. This report will show who the current surface rights owner is, and who currently owns the mineral rights.  The report will show whether the mineral rights are currently leased or unleased, and if the leases are held by production.  The report will also point out if royalty rights have been sold.

This information is vital for property owners, buyers, and anyone interested in leasing or developing mineral resources. The report will show a clear marketable title of the ownership.  The report will also draw attention to any problems or issues with the chain of title, allowing the client to address the issues before moving forward with any transactions involving the property, thus ensuring smooth transactions involving the mineral rights.

mineral rights

Buying and Selling Mineral Rights

The process of buying and selling mineral rights involves several critical steps to ensure a smooth and profitable transaction.

Conducting a Title Search

The first step in buying or selling mineral rights is to confirm ownership through a thorough title search. This involves examining historical records to trace the chain of ownership and ensure that the seller has a clear title to the mineral rights. The title search will also show any encumbrances or issues that may need to be addressed.  This step is crucial to prevent any future legal disputes over ownership.

Evaluating the Potential Value

Once ownership is confirmed, the next step is to evaluate the potential value of the mineral rights. This evaluation considers current market conditions, the type and quantity of minerals present, and the feasibility of extraction. Professional appraisers or geologists can provide an accurate assessment, which is essential for setting a fair price.

Due Diligence

Research will also be done to determine if the mineral interests are producing or non-producing.  This includes reviewing the production history and a review of mineral activity in and around the area of interest.

Negotiating Terms

When the ownership is confirmed, and with a clear understanding of the value, the buyer and seller will begin negotiating terms. When a purchase price is agreed upon, a formal Purchase Agreement may be utilized to outline the terms and conditions of the transaction. The buyer may also have a title opinion done by a title attorney.

Finalizing the Deal

When all the terms and conditions of the Purchase Agreement are met, the transfer of ownership is done using a deed or assignment.  The deed or assignment is placed of record in the County Recorder’s or Clerk’s Office.


When engaging in the buying or selling of mineral rights, it’s important to consider the expertise of brokers or consultants who specialize in this field. These professionals can provide valuable insights and guidance throughout the process.  They are familiar with the current trends and mineral prices.  They also understand the mineral values. Experienced brokers and consultants are familiar with the relevant laws and regulations and can help you comply with all requirements. Brokers and consultants are also professionals skilled in negotiations who can help you secure favorable terms, whether you are buying or selling.

mineral rights and how do they work

Understanding mineral rights is a crucial aspect of property or mineral ownership. This understanding is also critical if you are considering investing in mineral interests. This knowledge helps in determining ownership of the minerals, understanding the rights of the mineral owner, and understanding the process of buying and selling these rights, allowing you to make informed decisions and leverage the value of your assets effectively.

Whether you are a landowner, mineral owner, or investor, taking the time to understand and manage these rights effectively can lead to substantial benefits. With the right knowledge and professional support, you can fully realize the potential of the resources beneath the surface of the land.