Landowner rights misunderstood

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If people own a piece of property, but don't own the mineral rights below the surface, the mineral owner has a right to mine what's under the land.

Federal law says so.

A workshop was held Saturday to inform landowners about what their rights are at the "Our Land, Our Rights" forum at the Center of Craig.

"An operator must negotiate with a surface owner before they can bring any equipment on that surface," said Mary Ellen Denomy, a member of the Grand Valley Citizens' Alliance who works in the area of land owner/mineral owner negotiations.

But if a landowner refuses to negotiate an agreement the mineral owner still has a right to come on the property and mine what's under the land.

The surface owner can lose his or her say in how the mining is conducted if he or she is not pro-active, Denomy said.

Which is why it is important that the landowner involves his or herself in the process, she said.

One item that should be addressed is liability issues, she said.

"Require an operator to say if they do something and someone gets hurt, you will not take the responsibility," she said. "Just because you are allowing someone on your property does not mean you have to take responsibility for something that goes wrong."

She said an owner should also try to negotiate the pipeline that will run from the wells drilled on his or her property.

"Say you will not provide for the transportation of oil from someone else's property," she said. "It doesn't mean it will get done but at least you asked."

If the pipeline is connected to wells on other property, the landowner might be eligible for compensation, she said.

Other non-monetary agreements might be able to be worked out in negotiations with mineral owners, she said.

Companies might dig a pond, clean a septic tank or build a new fence for the landowner, she said.

"You can do a number of things that have nothing to do with money," she said.

Those who drill have a right to drill on someone's property, which means they have a right to enter the land for that purpose, not hunting or other reasons, she said.

"Just because they have a right to drill on my property does not mean they have a right to do anything else without my permission," she said.

What equipment is used and where the wells are dug can also be negotiated, she said.

Denomy encouraged land owners to go to the courthouse and look through old lease agreements before they begin negotiations.

"If you're beginning negotiations it's also beneficial to have someone with a legal background look into it," she said.

Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson spoke Saturday during a forum about who has the authority in land use decisions.

People must educate themselves about the mineral ownership on the land they already own, or land they might be looking to buy, he said.

"I encourage each and every one of you to educate yourself," he said. "Each one of us has a responsibility to be part of the decision process and solution."

Know who owns the minerals rights underneath the property, he said.

"I would encourage all of you who are surface or mineral owners to get to know your neighbors up and down that vertical spectrum," he said. "You need to realize that these people have two different private property interests."

Owners have rights above and below ground, he said.

"I would encourage all of you who are mineral owners to take care of your surface owner," he said. "He's a neighbor. Everybody has rights in this situation and one use cannot override the other."

When negotiations begin, both owners need to respect the rights of the other, he said.

"It's not as simple as saying I want you to drill over there because that's more convenient for me," he said.

If people don't know who owns the minerals below their land, and have not spoken to that other owner, they should, Dickinson said.

"We as property owners have a responsibility to determine the values of that property and I encourage people to learn the mineral component of their estate," he said.

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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