I'm posting this question for someone else. This person is the surface land owner in Pennsylvania. Ownership of half of the mineral rights from this tract of land can be traced to present date through a deed search, the records for the other half of the mineral rights stop at around the year 1904. This land was stripped in the 1980's. The coal company's attorney sent a letter stating "There is nothing of record to indicate that the owner of the untracable portion of the mineral rights ever conveyed this interest out, nor does the record of his estate indicate his heirs or that the estate was assessed with the mineral interest." My question is- Would the unclaimed half of the mineral rights(natural gas) revert back to the land owner under Pa law? What steps can be taken to do this? Who would the mineral rights go to if no heirs are found?
Dear Mr. Horner,
I do not believe that the Pennsylvania Dormant Mineral Act was enacted to allow the surface owner to gain control of or to claim the minerals.
I do believe that the Act was set up to allow unknown or unlocatable mineral interest owners to have their interest placed in a constructive trust to allow leasing.
I know of no reversionary mineral statutes in Pennsylvania, but could quickly be corrected by someone with more specific knowledge.
As to "unclaimed", title to minerals cannot simply be abandoned, which is to say, title vests somewhere.
In the case of Pennsylvania, if the constructive trust grants a lease and development ensues, the proceeds are escheated to the state after, I think, five years. I did not see a provision for how the constructive trust is dissolved.
There is a way to adversely possess the minerals in Pennsylvania, but as I recall, it involves actual exploration and/or production of minerals as a bad faith claimant for a period of twenty one years. At that point, you could petition the court for a suit to quiet title. Much more money involved that it is likely worth.
Please inquire to a qualified oil and gas attorney in Pennsylvania for the right answer, not just one that I or anybody else jotted down. However, this may give you an idea as to the questions that you might want to ask of council.
Mr. Cotten is correct; the PA Dormant Mineral Act does NOT allow the surface owner to gain control of the "lost" mineral rights; I have been involved in 2 of these cases, and the law only allows for development of the oil and gas rights on behalf of the "lost heirs". There is no way for the surface owner to gain control of the lost mineral rights, unless possibly, as Mr. Cotten says, under the adverse possession laws.
Due to the great interest by energy companies now in natural gas in PA, specifically the Marcellus Shale, natural gas rights in many areas of the state are suddenly very valuable. If your friend has half interest in the oil and gas in a tract of say, at least 20 acres, then it is possible that an energy company might lease him, and then initiate an suit under the Dormant Minerals Act, in order to secure a lease (by court order) from the "unknown" heirs so that they might drill on the property. It is unlikely that an energy company would ever drill on a piece of property if they were unable to lease 100% of the oil and gas rights of the property-it is just not worthwhile to them. That is why the PA Dormant Minerals Act was created-to facilitate oil and gas development in the state.
Hope this helps, and good luck!