Subsurface property interests such as oil and gas rights, or mineral mining claims are frequently a misunderstood aspect of property title. Although they are part of the “bundle of rights” which are part of the entire property title, they can be severed from the surface or fee simple ownership, and have a completely separate ownership chain from the land and structures.
The status of mineral rights ownership (or gas and oil drilling rights) is not commonly apparent on deeds and other documents in the recent transaction history. For example, if oil rights on a particular parcel were sold off by a prior owner 50 years ago, the current deed might have no mention of the rights being owned by someone else. The ownership chain to those rights would run in a separate deed chain specifically referencing the oil rights and would not be part of the land deed documents. But what if the oil rights were not sold off, and remained with the surface rights? Unfortunately, that would not typically be referenced on current deeds either.
In order to accurately determine subsurface rights ownership, a chain of title search would go back to the last mention of any oil or mineral rights, and follow forward from there. This can be a complex search since many times these rights were last active decades prior. An experienced title search professional can improve the efficiency of these searches by using techniques such as locating adjacent rights, or cutting directly to known deeds.
A recent search we performed located an obscure mining claim deeded to a private individual on a proiperty in Alaska which was part of a 10,000 acre national land management area. The Federal government actually owned the land, but the mining rights to a small 10 acre parcel within this area was sectioned off for a private party to mine. The deed to these rights was signed in 1927 by President Calvin Coolidge.
The potential value of oil, gas, and mineral rights make the difficulty of these searches worthwhile in some cases, and the complexity can make for interesting results.