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How to Conduct a Mineral Rights Title Search

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Do you own your mineral rights? If you don’t, someone could drill on your land without your consent. Read to learn the steps you can take to find out if you own your mineral rights.

This handout includes:
I. Who Owns the Mineral Rights Under Your Land?
II. One Important Caveat
III. What Will You Need to Begin a Title Search?
IV. Where Do You Search?
V. What Are You Looking For?
VI. What Is a Deed Chain?
VII. What If Someone Else Owns the Mineral Rights Under Your Land?

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How to Conduct a Mineral Rights Title Search

  1. 1.    1Who  Owns  the  Mineral  Rights  Under  Your  Land?  North  Carolina  is  set  to  begin  natural  gas  exploration  after   the   General   Assembly   paved   the   way   for  legalizing   hydraulic   fracturing.   In   2012,   the   General  Assembly  required  the  Mining  and  Energy  Commission  (MEC)   to   create   the   regulatory   structure   that   will  govern   hydraulic   fracturing   in   North   Carolina.   The  General   Assembly   could   move   to   issue   permits   once  this  rule-­‐making  process  is  complete.  As  a  landowner,  it  is  important  to  know  if  you  own  your  mineral  rights  for   two   reasons.   First,   this   is   important   if   you   are  interested  in  leasing  your  minerals.  Second,  if  you  do  not   own   your   mineral   rights   but   own   the   surface  property,   known   as   a   split   estate,   there   could   be  drilling  on  your  land  whether  you  consent  or  not.  This  document   will   walk   you   through   steps   involved   in   a  mineral  rights  title  search.  One  Important  Caveat  The  information  provided  in  this  document  should  not  be   construed   as   legal   advice.   While   an   attorney   was  consulted  during  the  development  of  this  document,  it  is  being  provided  for  informational  purposes  only.  Mineral  rights  title  searches  can  be  long  and  confusing,  depending   on   when   the   mineral   rights   were   severed  from  the  surface  rights.  Interpreting  documents  can  be  difficult;  if  you  do  not  own  your  mineral  rights,  it  does  not  necessarily  mean  that  you  do  not  own  the  oil  and  gas  rights.  Often,  hiring  an  attorney  who  specializes  in  this   work   is   necessary   before   it   can   be   determined  who   owns   the   rights   to   minerals   under   your   land.   If  you   have   questions   or   any   level   of   uncertainty,   it   is  Do  you  own  your  mineral  rights?  If  you  don’t,  someone  could  drill  on  your  land  without  your  consent.  Here  are  the  steps  you  can  take  to  find  out  if  you  own  your  mineral  rights.  2highly   recommended   that   you   consult   an  attorney.  The  North  Carolina  Bar  Association  has  a  lawyer  referral  service  that  can  be  reached  at  1-­‐800-­‐662-­‐7660   (in-­‐state)   or   919-­‐677-­‐8574   (out-­‐of-­‐state   and   in   the   Raleigh   calling   area).   Details  can   be   found   at­‐pro-­‐bono/lawyer-­‐referral-­‐service/for-­‐the-­‐public.aspx  What  Will  You  Need  to  Begin  a  Title  Search?  There   are   several   things   you   will   need   as   you  start  a  mineral  rights  title  search.  Essentially,  you  will   want   any  documentation  that   identifies   the  property   you  are   researching.   These  documents  include  (1)  current  deed,  (2)  tax  ID  number,  (3)  previous   owners,   (4)   previous   deed   copies,   and  (5)  street  address  of  the  property.  Where  Do  You  Search?  In  North  Carolina,  the  Register  of  Deeds  for  each  county   acts   as   the   custodian   of   land   titles   and  land  transaction  documents.  Searches  will  differ  depending  on  the  county.  The  best  way  to  start  is  by   contacting   your   county   and   asking   how   to  begin  your  search.  They  will  direct  you  to  either  an  online  database  or  paper  files.  It  is  more  likely  that  paper  files  will  need  to  be  searched  for  older  deeds.   County   Register   of   Deeds   offices   can   be  located   at  What  Are  You  Looking  For?  There  are   several   items   that   are  key   to   identify  when   searching   within   a   deed   for   evidence   of  mineral   rights   ownership.   These   items   include  (1)   the   seller   or   “grantor,”   (2)   the   buyer   or  “grantee,”   (3)   date   of   deed,   (4)   date   deed   was  recorded,   (5)   the   “legal”   (acreage   and   county)  description  of  the  property,  (6)  the  source  of  title  or  prior  deed,  and  (7)  any  exceptions  to  the  sale  or   reservations.   This   last   item   is   perhaps   the  most   important   when   determining   if   the  minerals  were  severed  from  the  surface  at  some  point  in  the  past.  Conducting  a  Mineral  Rights  Title  Search  *  This  document  drew  heavily  from  “A  Citizen’s  Guide  to  Title  Searches:  Who  Else  Has  an  Ownership  Interest  in  Your  Land,”  published  in  2008  by  the  Mountain  Watershed  Association  of  Pennsylvania.  
  2. 2.      3What  Is  a  Deed  Chain?  A  deed  chain  is  necessary  when  determining  if  and  when  the  mineral  rights  were  severed  from  your  property.  First,  begin  with  the  source  of  title.  This  is  the  indicator  of  the  sale  where  the  current  seller  or  “grantor”  bought  the  property.    This  will  lead  you  to  the  prior  deed.  Repeat  this  process  until  you  are  able  to  find  mention  of  the  mineral  rights  in  any  exceptions  or  reservations  to  the  sale.  It  is  critical  to  maintain  an  unbroken  chain.  Failing  to  do  so  means  that  you  cannot  be  sure  of  current  ownership  of  the  mineral  rights.  In  the  case  of  Lee  County  in  North  Carolina,  mineral  rights  may  have  been  severed  as  far  back  as  the  early  20th  or  19th  centuries.  What  If  Someone  Else  Owns  the  Mineral  Rights  Under  Your  Land?  Because  the  deed  chain  indicates  the  mineral  rights  under  your  land  were  severed  prior  to  your  purchase  of  the  property  does  not  mean  your  work  is  necessarily  done.  In  North  Carolina,  the  General  Assembly  has  enacted  a  series  of  laws  known  as  “dormant  minerals”  statutes.  These  laws  extinguish  “ancient”  mineral  rights  of  the  owner  and  grant  them  back  to  the  surface  owner.  Mineral  rights  are  extinguished  when  (1)  the  4title  to  oil,  gas,  or  mineral  rights  is  severed  or  separated  from  the  surface  estate,  (2)  the  mineral  interest  is  not  in  the  course  of  being  mined,  drilled,  worked  or  operated,  or  in  the  adverse  possession  of  another,  (3)  the  record  title  holder  of  the  oil,  gas  or  mineral  interest  must  not  have  listed  the  property  for  tax  purposes  in  the  county  for  five  years  prior  to  January  1,  1986,  and  (4)  the  surface  owner  must  have  a  legal  capacity  to  own  land,  and  must  be  able  to  establish  a  30-­‐year,  unbroken  deed  chain.**  This  and  all  other  aspects  of  determining  mineral  rights  ownership  can  be  very  complicated.  An  attorney  should  always  be  consulted  when  determining  mineral  rights  ownership.  Additional  Questions  If  you  have  additional  questions  about  mineral  rights  or  mineral  rights  leasing,  please  contact  James  Robinson  of  the  Rural  Advancement  Foundation  International-­‐USA  at  919-­‐542-­‐1396  ext.  209  or    Figure:  Trassic  Basins  where  the  potential  for  shale  gas  development  exists  **  North  Carolina  General  Statutes  §  1-­‐42.9  (a)