Oil and Gas Laws of the United States: A Quick Guide

Oil and gas ownership has one of the most interesting legal histories in the United States. At a federal level, the United States is one of the only countries in the world that allows for private ownership of minerals found in the earth. Within the state, the laws surround mineral rights and oil and gas laws vary greatly between each state and, in some cases, each county. In this article, we are going to outline the essential oil and gas laws to be aware of in the United States.

Who can own oil and gas in the United States?

The rights to own oil and gas below the surface of a property are known as “mineral rights.” In the United States, mineral rights can be claimed by private individuals, corporations, Indian tribes, or by local, state, or federal governments. The ownership and transfer of oil and gas rights are mainly operated under regional statutes and common law, both fall beneath constitutional and federal law as well.

Oil and Gas Rights as Property

Over the past 150 years, oil and gas ownership in the United States has diverged into a huge portfolio of private and public sectors. For private oil and gas rights today, the mineral rights of a piece of land can be sold, bought, or leased as if they are any other piece of property. Mineral rights are also known as “subsurface rights” and can be bought, sold, or leased independently or together with a property’s surface rights.

Finding Oil and Gas on Public (Federal or State) Property

The General Mining Law in the United States allows individuals and companies to “locate” mining claims on public lands. At the federal level, there is BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, in which individuals can explore the area for potentially valuable minerals. Whereas an individual does not become the subsurface rights owner of public land, if approved by the federal government, the individual is granted access to develop and extract the minerals.

The same system is in place for state-owned land, although the specific oil and gas laws surrounding ownership and transfer vary state to state. For a full list of Mineral Rights Laws by state, see this index page from MineralWeb. The article has helpful links to navigate to specific mineral rights laws in states such as Texas, California, Colorado, and more.

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