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:
- The federal government owns both the surface and subsurface.
- A private party, tribe, or state owns the surface and subsurface.
- 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.