Drilling for oil and natural gas has surged, and the pile of cash owed to unknown mineral-rights owners is growing exponentially.
The Corporation Commission and the State Treasurer are sitting on a combined $105 million in unclaimed royalty payments, Oklahoma Watch’s Chase Cook reports. The Commission’s account alone has ballooned from $5 million a decade ago to $53 million last year:
The state benefits by using the cash and investment returns from the accounts to bolster the state budget. Portions of returns go to the Corporation Commission, the treasurer’s office and the state’s general revenue fund.
And most of these royalty owners will never know they’re missing out on Oklahoma’s energy boom, the nonprofit news organization reports:
An average of about 95 percent of the Corporation Commission account isn’t claimed by royalty owners during the five-year period the money sits in the account, Oklahoma Watch reports.
Mineral rights are complicated, often inherited, and hard to track. Records are often buried in county courthouses, and aren’t aren’t automatically updated when owners move to new addresses, Oklahoma Watch reports. And mineral rights are often divided among family members and unattached from their respective land rights:
When an energy company comes along and decides to lease a property that has no current oil or gas production, it will dispatch “land men” to check county records to determine who owns the mineral rights. For any given property, there might be dozens of mineral owners.
If mineral-rights owners can’t be located, energy companies are allowed to drill and lease the land through a “forced pooling” provision, according to the news organization:
Under state law, the only effort oil and gas companies are required to make is to send a letter to a mineral owner’s last-known address.