Real estate is like a cake. When you own the entire cake, you own the land in fee simple, essentially from the top of the ground to the center of the earth. When you own land in fee simple, you own the icing and the cake itself.
When someone sells the land and retains the mineral rights, then it is said that they sever the mineral rights. The surface owner effectively owns just the icing on the cake, which effectively means everything “from the grass roots up.” The mineral owner owns everything from “the grass roots” to the center of the earth.
The pretty houses on the surface of land are like flowers on a cake. Since it is not nice to mess up pretty flowers, in Oklahoma a new well cannot be spotted within 200 feet of a house. However, you can build a house close to existing wells.
Despite the fact that surface owners effectively own only the top few feet of land, they really own quite a ways down beyond the “grass roots.” This probably amounts to tens of feet, but not hundreds of feet down.
In Osage County, the landowners own just the surface. The Osage Nation owns all the minerals.
Generally in Oklahoma it is the surface owners who own the coal on the surface of the land and it is usually the surface owners who make agreements to have their properties strip mined for coal. However, the deeper coal zones can contain coal bed methane, a fertile source of natural gas; therefore the mineral owners will own those coal beds.
When you buy a house in Oklahoma, find out whether or not you are purchasing it in fee simple. If you are purchasing a property with mineral rights, your next question is, “What percentage of mineral rights are included?”
If you do not own at least 50% of the mineral rights, then you cannot control what happens to your land. It is incumbant upon all real estate sales representatives to explain this concept to anyone moving into Oklahoma from out of state.
This concept is hugely important and is understood by most native Oklahomans in rural areas. The emerging legal question is whether or not cities have the right to deprive land owners of their right to the minerals they own.
Homeowners should be encouraged to attempt to acquire the mineral rights to the land under them, because new technologies are making it much more cost effective to produce oil where heretofore it was not profitable.
In short, try to get at least 50% of the mineral rights if you cannot purchase your property in fee simple.