This guest opinion appeared in the October 21, 2014 edition of the Billings Gazette:
Guest opinion: Surface owners, know your oil and gas mineral rights
If you own only surface rights and a company intends to drill a well on your land, you’ll do well to get the time of day from them. I say this as an anti-clock watcher (I’m sorry, I’m late.). Mineral rights take precedence over surface rights in Montana, and many other states — thanks to boards of oil and gas and heavily lobbied legislatures who haven’t always thought things through.
In a surface ownership-only scenario, you would obviously not be entitled to any “signing bonus” or royalties. Further, you would likely be undercompensated for surface disturbance. Worse, you would have little or no control over where the disturbance of your surface occurred; in Montana there are no required setbacks from water wells, streams, or even your home.
Picture a case where you do own the majority of oil and gas rights, and several others own much smaller individual percentages of that same mineral estate. One owning the smallest interest could give permission for total oil-gas extraction — even if everyone else were opposed to it! Uncle Pete may then no longer be everyone’s favorite uncle. Hide the musket.
Apparently, unanimity is required here to say “no,” but not to say “yes.” Would the company fairly compensate the naysayers? It’s kind of like Pete alone owned all the oil and gas. Life isn’t always fair is it?
So, it’s very important for you and me to pre-determine who all owns the minerals under our land. We can then begin conversations which may avoid family members falling out with each other. And we can make easier, quicker, and more-informed decisions when the oil company comes.
Local title companies are often very busy doing what they do best and are not interested in adding mineral/mining right searches to their job description. So, what are other options?
Although I don’t personally know any yet (the courthouse might), there are those who will provide such research service at a cost of, say, $500 per day.
Fortunately, for private and state minerals, the Montana Department of Natural Resources can help you, and your local Bureau of Land Management office can help you with federal mineral ownership.
Finally, you and I can do the research ourselves in our county’s courthouse. Most clerk and recorder offices have computers available for such use. A learning curve is unavoidable. Given that and competition for use of such computers with others researching — not just mineral rights, but many other things — don’t dally.
Dennis Hoyem of Nye spent 36 years in public service with the U.S. Coast Guard, Stillwater County Commission and federal Bureau of Land Management in Miles City where he was a surface protection specialist for oil and gas exploration and development.
Dennis Hoyem and his wife Cathy were interviewed for our Preserve the Beartooth Front video. Here’s that video. If you receive this via email, click on the title of the post to see the videos.
and here are outtakes from Dennis and Cathy’s interview: