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2016: An Important Year for Ohio Mineral Rights

By Clint Leibolt

February 22, 2016

                  As both landowners and mineral interest owners know, the oil and gas development in southeastern Ohio has led to a lot of lawsuits. Ownership of valuable mineral rights for many Ohioans is in limbo, pending numerous cases before the Ohio Supreme Court. Many of these cases arise from either the 1989 version of the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act, or the 2006 amendment.

                The Ohio Dormant Mineral Act was originally passed in 1989. The 1989 Act provided that mineral interests that were owned separately from the land’s surface would be deemed abandoned and vest in the surface owner due to the passage of time unless certain actions, or savings events, occur. Rather than simplify land and mineral ownership, the 1989 Act created a host of legal questions. In 2006, Ohio passed an amendment to the Dormant Mineral Act. The 2006 Act created a notice process, whereby a surface owner attempting to declare a mineral interest abandoned had to first give notice and then, provided the mineral owner did not respond, record an affidavit stating that the mineral interest was abandoned. The 2006 Act did not succeed in clarifying the 1989 Act.

                Some of the important questions currently before the Ohio Supreme Court include: 1) Does the 2006 Act or the 1989 Act apply to lawsuits regarding mineral interests brought after 2006 (Corban v. Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C. and Walker v. Shondrick-Nau); 2) Whether the 1989 Act was automatic and self-executing, meaning that no action by the surface owner was necessary to abandon mineral rights (Eisenbarth v. Reusser); 3) How the period of time (“look-back period”) should be calculated when determining whether a mineral interest is abandoned (Walker v. Shondrick-Nau); and 4) Whether certain types of events qualify as a savings event in order to keep a mineral interest from being abandoned (Corban v. Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C.). This list is just a sampling of the major issues and cases currently before the Ohio Supreme Court awaiting decision.

               Many of these cases before the Ohio Supreme Court are completely argued and a decision is anticipated any month. Each decision could have important implications for any owner of a property with valuable mineral rights. Throughout 2016, landowners and mineral owners should be keeping an eye on the news and consulting with experienced oil and gas counsel to make sure that they are prepared to respond to these important Ohio Dormant Mineral Act cases.

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