RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Property records recently released by Lee County show owners of 365 parcels of land don't also own the rights to whatever might be found by drilling or mining under their property.
That means those owners won't be able to profit if a statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing if lifted, allowing companies to use the method which some call fracking to mine a pocket of natural gas that geologists think is trapped in prehistoric rocks deep under the county's soil.
Richard Harrison bought 60 acres in Lee County in the mid-1990s at a land auction. But the mineral rights under the land had been sold two decades earlier for just over $8,100.
"It certainly doesn't sound fair but I guess that's what it says. It's like buying a car without owning the engine in it — how can that be?" Harrison told The News & Observer of Raleigh (http://bit.ly/12V4URK).
The property records released by the county show the 365 landowners who don't also have mineral rights are located mostly in the northwestern part of the county.
The mineral rights on many pieces of that land belong to either lumber company Weyerhaeuser Corp. or timber farmer J. Daniel Butler of Southern Pines. They combined have leased about 6 square miles of the mineral rights they own to energy exploration companies.
"I can understand the anxiety of people not familiar with the industry," Butler said. "I know this business in Pennsylvania and other places. It's very amiably done with surface owners. The surface owners are always fairly compensated for the use of their property."
Hydraulic fracturing uses water and chemicals pumped in at high pressure to shatter the rocks that tap natural gas. State lawmakers have begun debate on a bill that would end a moratorium on the practice in March 2015. The bill would require regulators to promote business opportunities for energy companies. But a law passed last year also protects landowners, requiring 30 days' notice before drilling can begin, penalties for damaging the water supply or other personal property like livestock and timber and requiring the land's surface be restored after drilling is finished.
But all that is of little comfort to Kenneth Alexander, who said he didn't pay attention to the obscure "mineral rights" language in the deed when he bought 100 acres of former Weyerhaeuser Corp. timberland in the mid-1990s.
Now he is stunned to know that someone else stands to make all the profit for what is under his land.
"I wouldn't have bought land and paid the premiums I paid and the taxes I have to pay so that someone else could come in here and reap any benefit to that," Alexander said.
Information from: The News & Observer, http://www.newsobserver.com