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Question
Many years ago my husband's grandfather sold a large farm in Alabama, but retained mineral rights. When he passed away, the rights were subdivided between his children, and then, a few years later, his grandchildren.  Forty years or so ago, his mother and her sisters would periodically receive checks for a few dollars for their portion of the mineral rights.  When she and her sisters passed away several years ago, there were a couple of occasions when my husband and his cousins received a letter from a company who was leasing the property.  Several years have gone by…more relatives have relocated/passed away/etc…. none of the surviving relatives seem to know the status of the mineral rights. We have received nothing concerning the status of the land or the mineral rights in several years.  The last time we passed thru Alabama we located the property and the capped wells, but that has been 4-5 years ago.  My questions to you are 1) how do we find out who, if anyone, is leasing the mineral rights? 2) how can we keep up-to-date on the activity involving these wells since we live several hundred miles away? 3) do you have any other advice as to how you would insure that these mineral rights are not lost to our children, and that if there is any activity going on, that they will receive compensation?  We are not legal professionals and are concerned that we should be taking action to preserve our interests, instead of just waiting for someone to notify us.  Thank you so much for your time and expertise…I truly appreciate your response!  :)

Answer
I will try to answer your questions.

1. There are two ways to find out who, if anyone, is leasing the mineral rights: (1) go to the courthouse and "run title" using the Forward Index (the clerk can show you how) and looking up the grandfather's name, locating the deed whereby he reserved the minerals, then continuing to look for any oil and gas lease signed by him either before, or after that date.  Running title can get very complicated, so the easier way to do it is (2) hire a landman to spend a day running title and getting copies of every document from the deed records and oil and gas records related to these mineral rights.  You can contact the American Association of Professional Landmen at www.landman.org and ask for a referral list of independent landmen who work in that county area of Alabama. The cost will be +/- $500 per day plus per diem expenses (usually about $50, unless special circumstances).

2. To keep up-to-date on the activity involving these wells, visit www.gsa.state.al.us/ogb/ogb.html.  Select "Databases" on the left-hand side of the screen. Then select "Well Records."  Then select "Location".  Then select "Full Township, Range and Section".  In the pull-down menu for Township, select the Township number where your husband's family's land is located.  If there is more than one Township involved, you will need to fill this screen out for each one separately, to gather all of the information. After selecting the Township number, click the radio button for whether it is that Township number north (an "N" after the number in the legal description) or "S"outh.  Do the same for the Range number and direction. Then enter the section number. Then click the "Get Full List" button. You should see a complete list of all wells located on that property. You can view the list on the screen, or click the "Dump List to Excel" to get the data downloaded to Excel, or click "Print Full List" to get a printout.

HOWEVER, please understand that your land, or part of it, could have been "pooled" into a producing unit, with the wellhead located far off your property. The well data should include the field name. Under "Dabases" on the right side of the screen, you can select "Fields & Pools" and either enter the name of the field, or enter "%" to get a full list of all fields in the state, then look up the ones you need based on the well data. It is in the Fields & Pools records that you will find what are called "forced integration orders" issued by the Alabama Oil & Gas Board allowing your land to be pooled into a unit without the owner's consent when the legal owner cannot be located. It sounds like your situation may have caused one or more forced integration orders.

Another strategy I recommend that you do is to visit the website http://www.unclaimed.org/. I recommend that you only use this website (it's supposed to be free) because it's hosted by NAUPA, and trustworthy organization used by oil companies and millions of other users. You will need to search on your husband's grandfather's name, and the name of every ancestor who could have once owned it after him, until whatever part of it has become owned by your husband--and you will need to do this in every state, starting with Alabama and Delaware. This is why: because unclaimed property law says that if a payer doesn't know where the rightful owner is (or who they are currently) the payer is required by law to pay the money over to the state of the last-known address for that owner, OR if no address was ever known, the payer must pay it over to THEIR state of incorporation. Any oil company can be incorporated in any state of the union, but most commonly they are incorporated in the state where the land is located, or in Delaware, Nevada, Texas, Oklahoma, or by the remaining states of the union. I don't know of any oil companies incorporated in Hawaii, but that's about the only state you could safely skip searching.

Good luck to you, and I hope I have at least given you some leads to follow to help you get a handle on what your husband or other close relative owns and how to monitor it.

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Marsha Breazeale, M.Ed., CDOA, CPLTA

Expertise

All questions regarding division orders; ownership decimal calculations; title ownership and payer record changes (testate/intestate inheritance; deed; assignment; court order); oil and gas lease analysis for record-keeping and purposes of payment by operator or payer; pooling, horizontal wells, horizontal well allocation units; unclaimed property reporting; royalty owner relations questions. All questions concerning administration of surface land contracts and payment questions, such as for Surface Right-of-Way, Sub-Surface Right-of-Way, Easement, Surface Use Agreement. All questions regarding industry-standard and company-specific policies that affect land owners.

Experience

Sr. Staff Division Order Analyst. Certified Division Order Analyst (CDOA, National Association of Division Order Analysts) and Certified Lease Analyst (CPLTA, National Association of Professional Lease and Title Analysts) with 35 years of experience as a combination division order analyst and lease analyst in exploration and production in the oil and gas industry.

Organizations
National Assoc. of Division Order Analysts (NADOA), National Association of Division Order Analysts (NALTA), American Association of Professional Landmen (AAPL), American Society of Trainers and Developers (ASTD)

Publications
"How an Oil & Gas Exploration & Production Company Operates" and "Principles of Oil & Gas Lease Analysis: Standard Clauses", Oil Patch Press; Articles in NADOA Magazine; LandFocus EDU Professional Training Manuals

Education/Credentials
B.A.in Management from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio; M.Ed. in Instructional Design from WGU Texas.

Past/Present Clients
Past 15 years: GeoSouthern Energy Corporation; Contango Oil Co./Crimson Exploration & Operating Inc.; Apache Corporation; BP America; Marathon Oil; Newfield Exploration

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