When you buy property--whether a primary or secondary home, whether in a suburban, rural or vacation area--don't assume you are also buying whatever lies beneath the ground, warns New York real estate and environmental lawyer Elisabeth Radow. Another party may own the mineral rights, meaning there's a chance that gas or oil could be extracted from your land without your consent, affecting your property value for years while someone else collects the royalties. So take these steps before you buy.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS If you want to buy a home, conduct a title search to see who owns the property's mineral rights, says Radow. It should go back 100 years (most searches go back only 50) so that older leases or deeds granting subsurface rights will be included. If there is a gas lease on your property at the time of purchase, you may have trouble mortgaging the place, either now or in the future. For that reason, Radow recommends making the sale conditional on your ability to get a mortgage, even if you are buying with cash. If you already own a home but aren't sure where you stand, check the title report that was issued when you bought the property. It will say if mineral rights have been granted within 50 years of the date of the report. If mineral rights have not been granted to a third party, they're yours.
INVESTIGATE YOUR POTENTIAL NEIGHBORS Even if you own the mineral rights and don't intend to grant them to someone else, drilling under nearby land could negatively affect your property value, especially if you have a water well on your land. To find out if drilling permits have been issued in your area, consult an attorney familiar with the drilling and leasing laws in your state or check with your state's environmental board. (The Natural Resources Defense Council offers links to state offices: go to nrdc.org/health/drilling and click on the tab RESOURCES BY STATE.) Even if there's no current drilling activity, you may want to evaluate your area's potential. Visit the U.S. Energy Information Administration to search for maps and other information about shale plays in the United States.
You should also keep in mind that leases on your neighbor's property could result in drilling under your land, whether you want it or not. Through a practice called compulsory integration (or forced pooling), gas companies can drill under your property without your consent if a certain percentage of the land around you is leased or deeded to the gas company. That percentage varies by state; to learn about the laws in your area, Radow recommends a chart on the ProPublica Web site: projects.propublica.org/tables/forced-pooling.
FIND OUT WHERE YOUR WATER WILL COME FROM What is the source of water for your prospective home--a municipal supply or a residential well? If fracking results in the contamination of your well water, Radow says, your home could lose a substantial portion of its resale value--if you're able to sell it at all.
Don't miss our profile of environmental activist Sharon Wilson, the controversial and unapologetically outrageous voice of the antifracking movement--read it here.
Next: How Fracking Affects You
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