Skip to main content


A split estate refers to property where the surface rights and minerals rights are owned by separate parties (federal, state, private, tribal, or corporate).

57.2 million acres in the United States are split estate, where federally-owned minerals lie beneath a privately owned surface.

In most countries, the federal government owns the rights to minerals under the earth’s surface, such as coal, oil, and gas deposits. The United States is unique in having a complex mix of surface and mineral ownership scenarios.

There are three basic land and mineral ownership combinations in the US:

  1. The federal government owns both the surface and subsurface.
  2. A private party, tribe, or state owns the surface and subsurface.
  3. A split estate: when the surface and subsurface are owned by different parties.

Under some legal interpretations, subsurface rights take precedence over surface rights in the United States. This means that landowners who do not own subsurface or mineral rights might not have the final say about oil & gas drilling on their property.

Because it limits local control over surface and subsurface use, the split estate has been a significant enabling condition of the oil and gas boom in the United States in recent years.


Related to Split Estate


Over 91% of public lands around Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico have been leased to oil and gas drilling. It’s time to stop.

Learn More


The Four Corners Methane Hotspot, caused in part by oil and gas development, is a grave climate and public health concern.

Learn More


Fracking adds more risk to the already damaging processes of oil and gas drilling. It threatens our water, air, land, and communities.

Learn More