According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, a large number of landowners in the state own "none of the subsurface rights" to their properties. Holding mineral rights to a plot of real estate gives the owner certain rights that may supplant the wishes of the surface owner if the two differentiate. In addition, the mineral rights owner is entitled to use the property of the other, i.e., the surface area, to access the contents below.
In the context of regulations concerning mineral rights in the United States, natural gas and oil are classified as minerals. In Pennsylvania, where surface and mineral estates may be separated, owners of various minerals may also be different. For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources list coal, gas, oil and hard rock minerals, as separate interests.
One person or entity may own the surface real estate, a second person may own rights to the coal beneath the surface, a third may hold interest to the natural gas and so forth. Under Pennsylvania state law, each owner has specific rights. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources states that the surface owner has a "right to protection from unreasonable encroachment or damage," yet the mineral rights owner or owners have a right to extract the minerals they hold title to by using the surface owner's land.
Letting and Selling Rights
Owners of mineral rights in Pennsylvania may lease access to the subsurface to multiple parties. For example, one contract may grant extraction rights to oil deposits to one company, natural gas rights to a second company and rights to coal deposits to a third company. In addition, multiple parties may be granted rights to the same mineral, divided by different plots of land or known deposits split by percentages of products extracted. Under Pennsylvania law, titles to mineral rights can also be sold to a new owner or left to heirs in an estate.
Law of Capture
If the owner of mineral rights of a specific plot of Pennsylvania land does not want to extract resources beneath the surface but neighboring owners do, the land may be subject to the law of capture. This regulation gives producers access to underground materials and does not require the mining company to pay royalties to owners of neighboring mineral rights. The state recommends that should a well or mine be placed near a property, mineral rights owners should seek compensation through a prearranged agreement.
If a real estate deed presents the title as "fee simple," this indicates that surface owner retains all mineral rights. Otherwise, the landowner may need to investigate further. According to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, property deeds for real estate should be registered in the appropriate county's office of Recorder of Deeds. Conversely, mineral rights may not be officially recorded, although some can be found in local government records.