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The big question: Who owns the mineral rights?

COUNTRYSIDE: This concerns the story about Janet and SEECO (May/June 2008, p. 73). Your article did not indicate who owned the mineral rights. Think of a bundle of sticks. Each stick represents a single "right," such as the right to farm a crop, the right to occupy the property, the right to water, even the right to cross the air space above the property. If the mineral rights were sold, Janet may not have much choice, depending on the mineral sale contract. She may have action against the previous owner if the sale (non-ownership) of mineral rights was not disclosed. That' s why one should buy or sell through a Realtor or attorney. If the land was bought from family, this may be difficult. If rights are leased, and Janet owns the rights, then she can refuse to lease the rights she owns. If there is an existing well, the mineral rights may have been sold decades ago. Many subdivisions in the west are built on land where the mineral rights were sold in the 1800s.

The boilerplate in our agreement indicates that the mineral rights do not go with the property. You may have to do some research in your county courthouse to determine this, but check the documents that came with your property. Title insurance provides you with certain rights, which might include "quiet title" meaning that you own all rights not specifically excluded. If you do not own the mineral rights, you may be able to buy them back from the owner. It may be that the property has little value without the mineral rights. Selling to SEECO (full market value including your labor on improvements) might be your best alternative.

This might serve as a warning to anyone buying property. Investigate before you invest. Be sure of who owns mineral and water rights. You might find that you are entitled to a domestic well only. Forget irrigating the market garden, as you are limited to how much you can pump.

An octogenarian buried her third husband. She continues to live on a rather remote ranch where she raises some cattle. For months after the funeral, farm equipment was disappearing. Living in South Dakota, one can show a driver's license and obtain a permit to carry a weapon, either openly or concealed. This feisty great-grandmother obtained the permit, then showed it off when the local guys came in for coffee and lunch at the most popular cafe in town. She brought a friend and showed off her permit, speaking loudly to her apparently hard of hearing companion, bragging about her new status as a "pistol packing great-grandma." Result: No pilferring for years. Word gets around.

I would also point out that rodents, vermin, and those with less than honorable intent fear the light. Shine attention on your property.

Post some hand-lettered large signs. "Absolutely no nudity or exposure of male organs allowed. Violators will be prosecuted as sex offenders," depending on your state laws. A live-feed to YouTube of the sign and a few likely places to see more than the law allows might get some free publicity.

If these men are staying for extended periods of time they are probably relieving themselves outdoors. Permission to enter is not permission to urinate or defecate. The disease risk is significant since your animals produce milk used for human consumption and browse, possibly on urine soaked shrubs. Use this as an excuse to mount dozens of cameras. (Thrift shop--only a very few, if any, need to function.) I would also adopt several guardian breed dogs. Again, post warning signs. "Do not enter without express written permission, to be obtained daily. Unless the property owner accompanies you, consider well that the dogs will consider you prey. Then pray yourself." Perhaps "The pack can cover 100 yards in five seconds. Can you?" Check your rights to defend your property from trespassers. These need not be the lease holders, but any other intruders including bears, puma and other predators. Use the resources of health, wildlife and agriculture departments on every level to determine long-term health hazards. Training dogs to guard property could be profitable. I would pay good money for a dog that would "herd" deer away from my pastures and hay stacks. The dogs can't chase the deer, as that is illegal, but keeping deer from entering, defending the fenced property might work.

I keep a loaded shotgun handy. A cougar was seen within a couple miles, and I will protect my foals. Find out what is legal where you live. Join Second Amendment Sisters and the NRA. Use the bumper stickers on a vehicle parked near the access gates. Intimidation can work both ways.

Yes, I'm the wicked woman who got mad enough to chase a bull, barefoot, wearing a red dress! The bull wandered into my front yard, along with some cows and calves. He took one look at me in that red dress, tucked his head down, turned, then ran for the gate. I terrified him! (That's what happened when I spent hours fighting Verizon's "telephone tree"--I was not seeing the risk. I could have been gored, or broken bones in a fall. Dumb.)

Don't lose your temper, but let them violate the terms of the con tract, then act legally, with sanity and forethought.

Read carefully the existing lease. What will find them in violation? There might be some fine print which would end the lease earlier. Get an opinion from Law Review (a digest of articles written by law students--each law school has one--ask--they need interesting topics). How can the lease be terminated early by either party? Go outside the states where this company operates. Know-how is powerful.

Get your attorney to find the "grey areas" where the contract stands mute. Exploit weaknesses in the "boilerplate" to find fault with them. If the contract does not give a specific right, they do not have such a right, such as privacy.

A "No Nudists" sign will have a lot of neighbors watching your property.

Establishing the CC&R should cut off future harassment. Your no is public and permanent. Your neighbors may also choose to protect the water by banning the use of explosives on their property.

I cannot raise chickens or livestock on the farm which has been in my father's family for over 130 years. The aquafer is tainted with nitrates from high nitrogen liquid fertilizer used with assurances from our government that it was "safe." The fish in our pond bear grotesque deformities. Women of childbearing age are warned to drink only bottled water. Only distillation will remove these contaminants. Two wells over 200 feet deep, each produced water so "milky" one cannot see through a glass of it.

The mare which stayed there a couple days has produced three foals by two different stallions. Each foal developed a "club" foot. Apparently the effects don't go away. Anyone who would like a great yearling, contact me. He is sound, but will require monthly trimming on that hoof. Weekly rasping is also an alternative. A Saddlebred, he will probably mature over 16 hands. Both his parents race, and he should be a very good trail horse. He is started in his ground work, loads, clips, and behaves well. He needs someone to be his "forever" owner. The mare, unfit for breeding, will go to a therapeutic riding program. Meanwhile, I have a brick house available for very modest rent. (It just this second occurred to me that perhaps a "still" could be used to purify water for some livestock. The costs for commercial distillation are quite high.) Now I live elsewhere. The house was vandalized, with all the light fixtures stolen. I haven't been back to see what else is missing. Insurance refused to pay, as is typical. One is better off with basic fire protection and putting the savings into feeding guard dogs.

Indicate your decision not to renew the existing lease to your attorney, and if legal, publish a Notice Of Intent stating that you will not renew the current lease. That ban can be added as a Covenant, Condition and Restriction to the property, making it irrevocable. The CC&R will prevent future owners from dealing with either a specific company, or any. The previous sale of mineral rights may limit your alternatives, but you should be able to exclude certain companies, their heirs, and future corporate identities. Your attorney should be able to write something broad enough to meet your need. Getting rid of you will not get them what they want. Ever. If many in the community depend on this company for jobs, you may become very unpopular. Challenging the mostly male power base could have consequences. Decide if the fight is worth it. If possible, get other women to support you from outside the area. Again, consider selling, then buying where you will own the mineral rights. See what properties are available. Check out properties owned by banks. They may have obtained mineral rights during foreclosure process.

It might be worthwhile to contact the National Board of Realtors. They have a PAC and lots of lobbyists to support private property rights.

At worst, private corporations have used greedy politicians to seize the land they want using eminent domain laws, then buying the land from the government for much less than the rightful owner's asking price. The mayor of Las Vegas seized land wanted by a casino. She also seized private land for commercial use. The family eventually got a multi-million dollar settlement, but they wanted the land, which had been in their family since the original town lots were sold, and the business they had built for generations.

Please realize that I'm a crotchety old woman, not an attorney. None of this is intended as legal advice.--Name withheld by request

COUNTRYSIDE: Janet Russenberger needs to get in touch with the Institute for Justice (IJ) right away. I hope you have some way to get this info to her post haste. The IJ is a nonprofit organization that opposes eminent domain abuse and defends individual property rights. The organization was started by people I would consider to be far right and defends and opposes some things I don't agree with (I'm a moderate liberal), but we can all agree about the kind of problem Janet is having. The IJ has knowledgeable lawyers and gives good advice as well as helps them. Their web address is www.ij.org.--Diana Conn, Knoxville, Tennessee

COUNTRYSIDE: One organization that might help Janet R. is Institute for Justice (www.ij.org/) which has a division "Castle Coalition" devoted to imminent domain and related issues.

COUNTRYSIDE: I was very sad to read this story, and it reminded me that there is a similar story in April 2008's The Progressive magazine, only these people are fighting a pipeline carrying tar sand crude from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast of the U.S. Perhaps Ms. Russenberger needs to talk to the folks fighting this pipeline. It is not so different from what she is fighting.

And perhaps she needs to e-mail Oprah, it can't hurt to start spreading her story around as far as she can. And she needs to research both the lawyer she's using and the company on the Internet to see if others are having the same problem. "Hang together or they will hang you one by one" is a Union saying, and so true.

Please pass this along to her, and tell her an old Union woman said, "Fight 'um to the death."

COUNTRYSIDE: I sympathize with Janet and other landowners who repent of signing oil and gas leases. (p. 73 of May/June 2008) However, if Janet signed a lease that allows the lessee nearly unfettered access to her land for the purpose of exploring for and developing oil and gas or other minerals, then she agreed to and has been paid for the "harassment" she is now undergoing. (Whether the company is actually following the law or the contract is another matter. For that she needs legal help.)

Few people read the contracts they sign, whether for credit cards or mineral leases, and fewer still understand them. Many people just believe what they want to believe regardless of what a contract says, and will blame someone else if it does not go well for them. Janet seems to have been lulled by the neighborhood consensus that the leases were "free money." In many cases, oil and gas lessees paid landowners for the lease but there was no activity. That may have gone on for decades. Then oil prices rise and the lessees show up with their trucks and seismic units.

You must understand the contract to know your rights and responsibilities (and the consequences). If you can't read it or just don't understand it, then hand it to a lawyer. You may have a hard time finding a lawyer who is competent in this work during an oil and gas exploration boom. So you might want to have a lawyer tell you what it means before you sign it. Contracts often contain legal terms of art--common words that take on a different meaning in a special circumstance--that only a lawyer or a landman who works in that trade would understand.

Energy companies rely heavily on subcontractors. These may be highly transient people with no ties to the community and no interest in fair play. Many of them are unreliable and unethical so you have to protect yourself as if they all are. Get everything in writing. Everything. Oral promises are worthless and bind no one.

Energy (and other) companies can mislead people because people believe in a free lunch and the honesty of fast talking strangers with a friendly smile. People rarely know what the law is and how it favors oil and gas interests. Don't assume that the contract you are offered is fair-in fact, you should assume it is not. Unless the landowner is familiar with lease agreements and the types of activities involved, they should find out for certain what the deal is before signing. There are landowner, environmental, and other organizations that help their membership with information and support. Better to contact them before trouble starts, though, just like lawyers. Libraries are also excellent sources of information. A little winter reading can pay big dividends in peace of mind.--Mark Mackin, Helena, Montana
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Author:Riley, Vicki; Schaffer, Rosemary; Conn, Diana
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2008
Words:2411
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