Breaking Down Mineral Rights

Mineral rights are so complex that most of the time, people would instead hire a lawyer to deal with them. The bad news is, there is a lot of truth in that statement. Mineral rights can be tied up in tricky deeds going back generations. The good news? We’ve collected the most commonly asked questions about mineral rights to help you get a better understanding of one of the most complex issues in the land industry.

Q: What exactly are mineral rights?

A: Mineral rights are the legal rights to the minerals in a property. Whoever owns a property’s mineral rights has full legal rights to mine for and profit from those minerals.

Q: What kind of minerals are included in the term “mineral rights“?

A: There are lots of minerals that you can make a profit off if you own mineral rights. These include oil/natural gas, coal, precious metals (gold/silver), non-precious or semi-precious metals (copper or iron), and specialty earth elements like uranium.

Q: What minerals do I NOT have access to?

A: This is where mineral rights can get tricky. Sand, gravel, limestone, and subsurface water are all not covered by most mineral rights. These elements are typically considered part of the surface area of a property. Whoever owns the surface rights also owns the rights to the sand and limestone.

There have been many legal battles over what counts as a mineral. Here are just a few examples. To keep your mineral rights out of the courtroom, be sure to be explicitly clear with whoever you are buying or selling your rights to.

Q: Are mineral rights profitable?

A: Yes, but not as profitable as you might think. Private mineral rights owners received an estimated $22 billion in 2013. The government also makes a pretty penny off of mineral rights. In 2016, the U.S. government received roughly $2 billion in mineral productions (which includes oil, gas, and coal) on federal land.

However, the growing number of legal battles between states and landowners over mineral rights is starting to rack up a hefty tab. In some cases, the price of the lawyers and time in court can drain more money than the mineral rights are worth.

If the minerals in your land are oil or coal, you are competing with solar and wind energy. The rise in renewable energy sources also has the potential to lower the value of the oil or coal in your land.

Q: What are the most common ways that mineral rights are held?

There are three common ways that mineral rights are held. The first and most common is a unified estate. In unified estates, the mineral and surface rights are held together, so whoever owns the deed to the property owns both mineral and surface rights. A severed or split estate means that the mineral ownership is sold separately from surface ownership. In this case, whoever owns the surface rights does not own the mineral rights. The last type of estate is fractional. As the name implies, fractional estate is when you receive a portion of the mineral rights. Fractional estates are often used for inheritances, so that each heir can split up the profits equally.

Q: How do I know how much my mineral rights are worth?

Finding out how much your mineral rights are worth can be difficult. The value of mineral rights can vary day-by-day, because the market value of minerals is determined by calculating how much buyers would pay for mineral rights today. There’s no easy way to calculate how much your minerals rights are worth. One of the best ways of knowing the current value is to list mineral rights for sale and see how much people are willing to buy them for.  You can also list them on US Mineral Exchange.

Q: Will mineral rights increase my taxes?

Yes – if you are currently making a profit on those minerals. Unexercised mineral rights (if you are not currently making money from the mineral rights) are not taxed. If you sell those rights, you have to pay taxes on the proceeds. Income made from the minerals is taxable income.  But having valuable minerals and oil on your land can also increase your property value, which will be helpful when it comes time to sell.

Q: What are common mistakes people make when selling their mineral rights?

One is accepting the first offer on mineral rights. Don’t accept the first offer you get. Offers are the best way to gauge the price of mineral rights, so wait until you have a few offers to figure out what your mineral rights are worth and the best price for them. Mineral rights can be incredibly valuable, so take your time finding the best buyer. Another mistake is listening to rumors. Many people think the best way to figure out the value of their mineral rights is by asking their neighbors about their mineral rights and assuming yours will be similar. DO NOT DO THIS. The minerals in land range wildly from property to property.

Q: Can I buy the mineral rights to a property that isn’t mine?

A: Yes! This is becoming more common as the value of oil and minerals goes up. You need a real estate deed that details the mineral rights as well as proof of ownership of the mineral rights, a warranty deed, and legal documents. Learn more about buying mineral rights here.

Although we have covered a fair amount in this article, it still only scratches the surface of everything there is to know about mineral rights. Mineral rights are complex, but understanding the basics is a huge step forward to becoming a mineral rights expert.

About the author: Laura Barker is Marketing Assistant for the REALTORS® Land Institute. She graduated from Clark University in May 2017 and had been with RLI since October 2017.