Olen Merry said he’s owned his land for 20 years, so when an oil company showed up ready to drill on it, he was shocked. 

“I just didn’t believe they could come in here and do this,” Merry said. “I said, ‘I don’t want it here.’  They said, ‘That don’t matter.'” 

According to the Texas Railroad Commission, for every piece of the land there is actually two distinct sets of rights, or “estates”: the surface rights or the mineral rights. At some point, the two were owned by the same entity, but may have been split among many parties over time as they were sold. 

Merry owns the surface rights to the land, but not the mineral rights, Of course, he didn’t know that. 

“If I’d have known I didn’t own the mineral rights and was going to get into this, I wouldn’t have bought it. I’d have went someplace else,” he said. 

Sam Middleton, of Chas. S. Middleton and Son Farm and Real Estate, has dealt with land appraisals and farm and ranch sales for years. He said, according to Texas law, the mineral rights take precedence. 

“You just need to know the minerals are the dominant estate, and the mineral developer has the right to come on your property,” Middleton said. “You hope that you’re dealing with somebody that’ll be reasonable with you.” 

Some of these sales happened decades ago. In some states, after a period of time, the mineral rights go to the surface estate-owner, but not in Texas. 

“A hundred years ago or whatever, that still holds true. Land men, when they do a land search, they go search out the heirs of that great-great grandpa who reserved minerals,” Middleton said. 

Landowners can and should seek compensation from companies that come to drill, and Middleton suggests getting an attorney involved. 

Olen Merry said that’s exactly what he did, but he wants other landowners to be aware and know their rights.

“The biggest thing is the laws need to be changed.”

To find out who owns the mineral rights under your land, or find out if you do, check county clerk’s office. You can find all the land records having to do with your property there.