What are “severed” mineral rights?

Mineral rights — the ownership of those oil and gas deposits (among other things) under the land — do not necessarily transfer ownership at the same time the rights to the surface property get transferred. When that happens, it’s said that the mineral rights are “severed.”

And it happens often. People may sell the mineral rights to their land without any intention of selling the land itself as a way to raise much-needed cash. Conversely, people often buy mineral rights as an investment — without having any interest in the surface land itself.

That can, unfortunately, create a lot of confusion down the road. Sometimes people forget to tell their heirs that they sold the mineral rights long ago, especially when the rights were never used. Sometimes, companies that buy up these mineral rights fold without ever using them.

Under the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act, property owners cannot just reclaim those potentially abandoned mineral rights without significant effort. They must try to identify the owners of the mineral rights, locate them and serve them with a notice of abandonment. The failure to do so can result in litigation.

Currently, there’s litigation to settle an issue involving severed mineral rights in Ohio that could end up better defining what it means for a landowner to do their due diligence when it comes to locating long-lost owners of their property’s mineral rights. At issue is the disposition of mineral rights to 108 acres in Guernsey County that were transferred to someone else in 1965. The property owner tried to reclaim those rights in 2012 — and the other party is now claiming that they didn’t exactly go out of their way to provide notice.

Do not try to figure out the rules concerning mineral rights on your own. An attorney can help you avoid complicated litigation down the road.