Leasing and Management of Split Estate
When the surface rights to a piece of land and the subsurface rights (such as the rights to develop minerals) are owned by different parties, the mineral rights often take precedence over other rights. However, the mineral owner must show due regard for the interests of the surface estate owner and occupy only those portions of the surface that are reasonably necessary to develop the mineral estate.
The BLM’s split-estate policy only applies to situations where the surface rights are in private ownership and the rights to development of the mineral resources are publicly held and managed by the Federal Government.
Split Estate and Land Management Policy
Various laws granted land patents to private individuals but reserved the mineral rights to the Federal Government. The BLM must comply with the provisions of the laws under which the surface was patented. However, many of those laws do not identify the rights of the surface owner in split estate mineral development situations. The Oil and Gas Gold Book and Onshore Order 1 provide guidance for surface management.
Split Estate – Cultural Resource Requirements
Before the BLM approves an Application for Permit to Drill (APD) on split estate lands, the BLM must determine if the development is going to affect cultural resources located on the surface. Professional archaeologists typically conduct a cultural resource survey by walking on the private surface and looking for cultural artifacts. Depending on what the survey finds, the proposed location of the well or other facilities may be modified to avoid damaging important cultural resources belonging to the surface owner.