The Nuances of Mineral Rights

Maggie Gurule
Environmental Studies and Political Science, 2016

Research Paper: 


Few environmental concerns have been as contentious fracking. While this process has produced a boom in America’s production of natural gas, many people are wary of potential pollution of waterways and airways and the health implications that can come with fracking. Despite people’s reservations about fracking, some Americans who live in areas rich with shale and natural gas have no option but to become intimately connected to fracking. Through a complicated web of property ownership, many American lives are affected by fracking, whether they want it or not.

Unlike most other countries, American property owners can own everything that lies above, beneath, or on a piece of property. Over time, the rights to these different levels of resources could have been sold or leased to varying parties (“Mineral Rights”). Occasionally, potential property purchasers can be under the impression that they will own the mineral rights under the property they are buying, when, in fact, those mineral rights belong to a third party. This can greatly impact a property owner’s life; it can result in them having no say in whether their property is the site of a fracking well, leaving them to deal with any adverse effects of drilling without reaping any benefits.

Those in favor of fracking argue that the potential pollution and health problems have been over-exaggerated. They say that explosion of the natural gas industry has brought down energy prices domestically and has lessened our energy dependence on other countries. Pennsylvania has been a hotbed of fracking controversy thanks to the Marcellus Shale development and Josh Fox’s award-winning documentary Gasland. Thus, average citizen, including students of Lehigh University, should pay close attention to fracking and the nuances surrounding it. Through education, citizens become better equipped to advocate for their best interests. Education is especially important when discussing mineral rights as they pertain to fracking, because these mineral rights are largely misunderstood and not discussed. This has confused many property owners who may have thought they owned the mineral rights for their property, when they really didn’t. I will look to the history of land and mineral rights, how they can be sold or leased, the complications that can arise, and how they are used in fracking.